- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Washington-based group launched television ads Monday portraying Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson as beholden to trial lawyers and criticizing the chief justice hopeful over gifts and campaign contributions she’s received.

The Judicial Crisis Network has spent more than $336,000 to air the ads in the Little Rock and northwest Arkansas areas over the next month, according to television station filings with the Federal Communications Commission. Goodson, who is running against Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in the March 1 election, slammed the ads and suggested her rival was behind them.

The 30-second spot criticizes Goodson over gifts and contributions she’s received since she was elected to the state’s highest court in 2010.

“Italian getaways, enriching trial lawyers,” the ad’s narrator says. “Call Courtney Goodson and tell her to fight for Arkansans, not trial lawyers.”

Goodson is married to John Goodson, an attorney and member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. She reported on financial disclosure forms in 2011 receiving $99,000 in jewelry, trips, electronics and other gifts from him when they were dating. In 2013, she reported receiving a $50,000 trip to Italy from W.H. Taylor, an attorney and friend of her husband’s. Goodson has recused herself from any cases involving her husband, Taylor or Tyson Foods Inc., a company Taylor has represented.

The ad also cites $142,500 in donations Goodson received in the 2010 race from six law firms that have worked together on class-action civil cases in the state. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported last month that the firms are among the biggest donors to justices now on the court.

Goodson called the ads a “coordinated effort” by Kemp and his allies to target her.

“If Dan Kemp lacks the integrity to stop them, it’s a sign to every secret interest group in the country that Arkansas’ courts are for sale,” Goodson said in a statement released by her campaign. “Outside groups are not welcome in this race, and Dan Kemp should stop using dark money to buy a seat on our Supreme Court.”

Kemp’s campaign said it hasn’t talked with anyone from JCN and is focused on its own campaign.

“The response is a soundbite that one of Ms. Goodson’s many political consultants and supporters who reside outside of the state of Arkansas have told her to say in order to distract voters from the truth,” Erin Brogdon, Kemp’s campaign manager, said in an email. “If Ms. Goodson has a problem with the facts of the ad, she needs to take that up with the Judicial Crisis Network.”

Goodson has spent more than $100,000 for TV ads for her campaign, according to TV station filings. The JCN ads surpass the state’s previous record for outside group spending in a Supreme Court race - more than $164,000 for a seat on the high court in 2014 - according to Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, which track judicial election spending.

JCN didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. The group ran ads in Arkansas in 2014 accusing attorney general hopeful Leslie Rutledge of being soft on gun rights during her successful bid for the Republican nomination. Rutledge went on to win the office.

The group also ran spots criticizing former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor in 2013 for his support of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. Pryor lost his re-election bid to Republican challenger Tom Cotton the following year.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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