Arkansas TV stations challenge order blocking group’s ad

May 17, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The owner of two Arkansas TV stations challenged a judge’s order Thursday blocking them from airing a conservative group’s ad attacking a state Supreme Court justice seeking re-election.

Tribune Broadcasting Fort Smith LLC asked that Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin’s order temporarily preventing some stations from airing the ad be dissolved. Martin issued the order in response to a lawsuit from Justice Courtney Goodson, who’s being criticized by the Judicial Crisis Network’s ad.

Tribune owns KFSM and KXNW. Attorneys for the company said the order was a prior restraint of the stations’ constitutional rights.

“This case is an affront to not only the First Amendment, but due process,” the filing said.

The filing comes a day after Martin recused himself from the case following questions about a potential conflict of interest, including his wife’s work for Goodson’s husband’s law firm. Martin, however, said the temporary restraining order against the ad would remain in place. Goodson has filed two other lawsuits aimed at halting the ad in other parts of the state. A judge was scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on Goodson’s effort to prevent the ad from airing in the Little Rock area.

Chief Justice Dan Kemp on Thursday assigned Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce to the case after the rest of Washington County’s judges recused themselves.

The JCN ad criticizes Goodson over gifts received from donors and a pay raise the court requested last year. An Associated Press Fact Check of the ad found that some of its claims are misleading. Goodson is running against Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling in Tuesday’s non-partisan judicial election.

“Public interest weighs in favor of protecting the independence of the judiciary and demonstrating to these outside dark money groups like JCN that false and misleading advertising paid for by unknown donors will not be tolerated as Arkansans deserve better,” Goodson’s attorneys said in a filing responding to Tribune’s motion.

JCN, which targeted Goodson during her unsuccessful bid for chief justice two years ago, has spent more than $700,000 on ads criticizing Goodson and Hixson, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks judicial campaign spending. Another group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent more than $564,000 on TV ads and mailers in support of Sterling.


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