LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has some of the roughest elections for judges in the nation even though they are nominally non-partisan. A conservative group spent more than $600,000 two years ago targeting a member of the Arkansas Supreme Court during her unsuccessful bid to be chief justice. That group is back, spending more than $160,000 to air a new ad criticizing Justice Courtney Goodson as she seeks re-election to the state’s highest court on May 22.
The Judicial Crisis Network 30-second ad airing around Arkansas returns to past criticisms of gifts she accepted from donors and adds new accusations. Goodson lost her bid for chief justice in 2016 against Dan Kemp in a race that was overshadowed by outside group spending.
A look at some of the claims in the new ad:
“Goodson asked for an $18,000 raise, making her salary bigger than the governor’s.”
THE FACTS: It is true that Arkansas Supreme Court justices asked for an $18,000 raise and it is also true that their salaries are higher than the governor. But the ad puts together the two facts in a misleading way.
Goodson’s former rival, the chief justice, asked for the raise on behalf of all members of the court, including Goodson and himself. She didn’t make the request herself. The Judicial Crisis Network said that since Kemp asked for the raise on behalf of the justices, Goodson had joined the request.
It’s inaccurate to say the requested increase would have made her salary higher than the governor’s because salaries for the justices were already higher.
Last year chief justice Kemp asked an independent panel that sets elected officials’ salaries to raise pay for the justices by 11 percent, saying that would put them in line with what their colleagues in other states earn and reflect a heavier workload from handling a flurry of appeals last year over the state’s effort to restart executions. Their salary would have gone from $166,500 a year to $184,815, with the chief justice seeing his pay go from $180,000 to $199,800. Kemp said the Supreme Court was requesting the increase.
The panel rejected the request, settling on a 2 percent raise. The pay for Goodson and the other associate justices increased by $3,330. Goodson said this week she was grateful to get that. Salaries for Arkansas’ Supreme Court associate justices rank 27th among high courts nationally, according to a survey from the National Center for State Courts.
The pay for state Supreme Court justices was higher than the governor’s even before last year’s request and before voters formed the independent panel in 2014 to set officials’ salaries. Arkansas’ governor receives an annual salary of $143,820, while Goodson and the other five associate justices’ salary is $169,830.