LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas Supreme Court justice filed a lawsuit Monday to block a conservative group's television ads targeting her re-election bid, while one of her challengers was criticized by the group in a new spot calling him soft on crime.
Justice Courtney Goodson asked a Pulaski County judge to prevent several Little Rock-area TV stations from airing the ad from the Judicial Crisis Network, which has been running the spots statewide ahead of the May 22 nonpartisan judicial election. The group's ad criticizes Goodson over gifts accepted from donors and for a pay raise the court requested last year. The justice's lawsuit called the spots "defamatory, false and misleading." Goodson said she planned similar suits in other parts of the state where the ad is airing.
"The Judicial Crisis Network has flooded our television, our mailboxes and our internet with lies about me personally and my service as a judge for the past 10 years," Goodson told The Associated Press "This is one step in fighting back against these faceless cowards."
A hearing is scheduled Friday morning in Goodson's lawsuit. JCN said the lawsuit is "without merit" in an email to the AP. In a previous letter sent in response to an earlier cease-and-desist demand from Goodson's campaign, the group defended the ads and said the justice was free to buy advertising time if she wanted to respond.
The lawsuit came as JCN began airing a new ad targeting state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson, who is challenging state Goodson. Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling is also running for Goodson's seat.
The group's spot criticized Hixson for a 5-1 ruling he authored on the court that granted a new trial for a convicted rapist, Ramon Perez. The ad doesn't mention that four other judges joined in on the decision reversing Perez's conviction. It also portrays Perez, who has an active warrant issued for failing to appear in court, as a threat to children everywhere.
"Tell Kenneth Hixson: don't let another convict threaten our children," the ad's narrator says.
Hixson criticized the ad and accused JCN of "exploiting an apparent assault of a young girl for political gain."
"DC special interest groups are attacking me because they know that I cannot be bought," Hixson said in a statement. "It's time for the voters of Arkansas to let them know this seat on the Supreme Court cannot be bought either."
The appeals court in 2016 ruled that prosecutors in the Perez trial should not have been allowed to show to the jury, in its entirety, a 30-minute interview of the victim during her cross-examination. Perez's attorney, who had been questioning the victim about inconsistencies between the interview and her testimony, had objected and said the video would give the victim "a tutorial of exactly what she needs to say."
A failure to appear warrant was issued for Perez last year after he didn't show up for a hearing ahead of his new trial.
Judicial Crisis Network, which targeted Goodson during her unsuccessful bid for chief justice two years ago, has spent more than $519,000 on television ads in this year's race, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial races. That number, however, doesn't include cable.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has spent $200,000 on television ads in support of Sterling.