An Arkansas judge issued a restraining order Monday barring several local television stations from broadcasting a controversial campaign ad linking a state Supreme Court justice to a Fayetteville lawyer who lavished the justice with personal gifts.
The judge who issued the decision, known as a TRO, has accepted campaign contributions from the attorney at issue in the ad, and his wife has substantial business connections to the embattled justice.
The ad in question criticized Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson for accepting some $50,000 in gifts, including a trip to Italy and a stint on a private yacht, from an attorney named W.H. Taylor. Though Taylor is not named in the ad, he was the source of each gift cited in the package. Goodson is running for reelection to the state Supreme Court and faces two opponents in the May 22 election. Though judicial elections in Arkansas are nonpartisan, Goodson is generally regarded as a liberal jurist.
Circuit Judge Doug Martin issued a TRO against the group which produced the ad Monday, claiming Goodson had plausibly shown the allegations in the ad are false and defamatory. UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh, one of the nation’s leading First Amendment scholars, argued the order is unconstitutional at his eponymous Volokh Conspiracy blog.
To obtain a TRO, a plaintiff must merely show a likelihood of success on the merits of their case. Volokh explained that several state Supreme Courts have established judges must fully dispose of a case before issuing an injunction suppressing speech. TROs, on the other hand, are issued at the opening stage of litigation on the basis of conjecture and speculation. (RELATED: Anatomy Of A Scam: How Greedy Trial Lawyers Hurt Clients And Crush Nursing Homes)
Legal controversies aside, Martin’s order is all the more awkward given his connections to the conduct the ad raises. Campaign finance reports reviewed by The Daily Caller News Foundation show that Taylor donated $1,000 to Martin’s 2014 campaign for the circuit court. In total, the Martin campaign raised $58,000 and spent $33,000.
The U.S. Supreme Court found in 2009 that judges should recuse themselves from cases in which one of the parties before them made contributions that had a “significant and disproportionate influence,” on the outcome of their campaign. Though Goodson is not an official party to the defamation dispute, the high court clearly expressed discomfort with judges adjudicating matters affecting their own campaign donors.
In recognition of those potential conflicts, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution in 2014 urging states to establish recusal procedures for cases involving judicial campaign contributors.
The judge’s wife, Amy Martin, also appears to be a business partner of Goodson’s husband, John Goodson. Judge Martin’s 2017 statement of financial interest indicates Mrs. Martin owns an equity state in a consultancy called Capitol Square Strategy, which is owned by John Goodson. Her name also appears alongside Mr. Goodson’s on the masthead of a D.C. lobby shop called the Washington Advocacy Group.
Martin’s conduct has previously inspired official rebuke. The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission censured the judge for making “statements that were improperly prejudicial and harassing against his opponent and his opponent’s supporters,” during his 2014 campaign, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Commissioners found his campaign “went beyond normal election rhetoric and gave the appearance of coercion.”