RRT Request for Voluntary Withdrawal of Advertisement

16-Oct-2018

Rapid Response Team

Charged by the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct & Education Committee, Inc.
P.O. Box 141475, Little Rock, AR 72223
Members: Audrey Evans, Retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge (chair), Hal Bass (vice chair), Elizabeth Andreoli (secretary), Danyelle Walker

 

REQUEST FOR VOLUNTARY WITHDRAWAL OF ADVERTISEMENT

October 16, 2018

To: Republican State Leadership Committee—Judicial Fairness Initiative
Andrew Wynne, Chair, awynne@rslc.gop
Subject: October 15, 2018 Complaint Supreme Court Election
Complaint: 9279395
Filed by: Linda Napper on behalf of Justice Courtney Goodson Campaign

Dear Mr. Wynne:

The Rapid Response Team (“RRT”) received a complaint from Justice Courtney Goodson’s Campaign (“CGC”) stating that the Republican State Leadership Committee—Judicial Fairness Initiative (“RSLC”) mailed flyers that contain false or misleading information about Justice Courtney Goodson. The RRT follows its Rules and Procedures when reviewing complaints. We have applied these Rules and Procedures to the Complaint filed by CGC.

BACKGROUND

An election for the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court was held in May, 2018. That election resulted in a run-off election between David Sterling and Justice Courtney Goodson, which will be held on November 6, 2018. During the May, 2018 election, the Courtney Goodson Campaign filed a complaint with the RRT against the Judicial Crisis Network (“JCN”) alleging that statements contained in JCN’s mailings and television advertisements were false and misleading. After reviewing all evidence, the RRT found that statements made in the mailings and TV advertisements were false and misleading, and gave the JCN a chance to be heard pursuant to RRT’s Rules and Procedures. The Judicial Crisis Network did not respond. The RRT issued a Cease and Desist Letter to the JCN asking that it stop publishing false and misleading statements.

THE COMPLAINT

Justice Goodson’s October 15, 2018 complaint attaches four exhibits and a statement of complaint. (The RRT rejected the first two statements of complaint before an amended statement of complaint was accepted). The Complaint accepted by the RRT explains that the four exhibits were mailed together. Three of the exhibits contain statements about Justice Goodson that are the same as, or almost the same as, those made in mailed flyers and in advertisements paid for by the JCN in the May, 2018 election. The Complaint further states that the RRT has previously found these statements to be false and misleading (hereinafter, the Anti-Goodson Exhibits). The fourth exhibit is a flyer mailed with the three Anti-Goodson Exhibits that makes statements in support of David Sterling. The Sterling exhibit states that it is paid for by RSLC (hereinafter, the Pro-Sterling Exhibit).

The essence of the Goodson complaint is that the statements contained in the three Anti-Goodson flyers would lead voters to believe that

(1) Gifts are given to Justice Goodson, and that she hears cases in which those donors appear as counsel, or as a party in the case, and in return for the donations or gifts, Justice Goodson rules in favor of the donor entities or persons; and

(2) Justice Goodson asked for a pay raise.

After carefully reviewing the information contained in the three Anti-Goodson Exhibits, the RRT finds there is little to no substantive difference between the statements previously made by the Judicial Crisis Network in its May, 2018 flyers and TV advertisements, and the statements contained in the flyers recently mailed by the RSLC.

FINDINGS

The RRT finds that the RSLC makes either the same, or almost the same, statements that JCN made in its anti-Goodson advertisements; and that the RSLC uses the same imagery that the JCN presented in its flyers. Because the RRT found that the JCN statements that Justice Goodson asked for a pay raise and that Justice Goodson took gifts in return for favorable rulings were false and misleading, the RRT now finds that RSLC’s reprint of these statements in its mailed flyers is likewise false and misleading to the voters of the State of Arkansas. It relies on the evidence previously submitted.

EVIDENCE PREVIOUSLY SUBMITTED OR REVIEWED

Justice Courtney Goodson’s campaign provided evidence most of which, if not all, is available in the public domain.

  • In support of CGC’s complaint that the statements made in flyers are false or misleading which state or infer that Justice Courtney Goodson receives donations or gifts from persons or entities appearing before her, the CGC provided a list of all cases Justice Goodson has and continues to recuse from. This list of cases includes those filed in either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals by those donors who have given money or gifts to Courtney Goodson during the time she has served as an Appellate or Supreme Court Justice. Goodson’s recusal list includes persons or entities with whom Justice Goodson has a close personal relationship and/or who gave her money or gifts. The list includes, among others, W.H. Taylor & Associates, Keil and Goodson, John Goodson, Tyson, and the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees (husband John Goodson serves on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees). The CGC provided a separate court docket sheet for each of the cases from which Justice Goodson recused. Each of these docket sheets contains a docket entry showing that Justice Courtney Goodson recused from the case filed by a Donor.

    In 2013, a complaint was filed against Justice Goodson with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission making these same and other allegations; specifically, that Courtney Goodson took gifts from donors and then heard cases where the donor was the attorney or a party in the case. The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission issued a detailed letter reviewing all allegations (many of which were also stated in newspaper articles) that the JCN relies upon, finding that Justice Goodson recused in cases filed by donors. That letter concludes that “the investigation initiated by the complaint did not reveal or find any evidence of judicial misconduct, wrong-doing, or incapacity within the Commission’s jurisdiction. As a result of this finding, there is insufficient cause to proceed and this complaint is dismissed.”

  • In support of CGC’s complaint that the statements in flyers are false or misleading when they state that Justice Courtney Goodson asked for an $18,000 raise, CGC provided evidence that Chief Justice Kemp made a request for a pay raise on behalf of the Supreme Court to the Independent Citizens Committee (“ICC”). The ICC makes pay raise decisions for judicial positions. The ICC is a public forum and all links to its proceedings are in the public domain. The RRT takes notice that before Justice Kemp appeared on behalf of the Supreme Court to request a raise, the Supreme Court Justices held a confidential vote on the matter. As a result of that vote, Chief Justice Kemp was authorized to request a raise. The individual votes, which gave Justice Kemp the authority to request a raise, are confidential. There is no information, nor should there be information, as to whether Courtney Goodson voted for or against requesting a raise.

    The existing evidence includes the following: handouts prepared and submitted by Chief Justice Kemp to the ICC, the ICC minutes, recording of the hearings where Justice Kemp makes his request, and other letters from Justice Kemp to the Independent Citizens Committee requesting the raise. In the RRT review of the above information, the RRT finds no evidence that Justice Courtney Goodson asked for a raise. She did not attend the meetings when the Chief Justice asked for the raise; she did not write a letter seeking a raise; and, there is no record of how she voted. Simple math informs us that a raise could have been requested even if Justice Goodson voted against asking for a raise.

CONCLUSIONS

Having previously reviewed this evidence, the RRT again determines that CGC has met its initial burden to support its complaint that RSLC’s flyers contain statements that are false or misleading. A person of ordinary intelligence would conclude that:

  • Justice Courtney Goodson did not request a pay raise. There is no evidence to support the statement that she did request a pay raise. Justice Goodson sat on the Supreme Court during the period of time the court voted to authorize Chief Justice Kemp to request a pay raise. The Supreme Court speaks with one voice and that voice is the voice of its Chief. It would be a violation of Justice Goodson’s duty of confidentiality to reveal how she voted for a pay raise.

  • Justice Courtney Goodson did not hear cases that were filed by or on behalf of a Donor. Because Justice Goodson recused from hearing those cases, donors did not receive benefits from Justice Goodson.

INSTRUCTIONS

Upon receipt of this letter and review of all available evidence, you may agree to cease further mailings immediately, and agree not to publish these false and misleading statements in the future.

Alternatively, if you have evidence or information to support the statements made in the mailer showing that Justice Courtney Goodson decided cases in favor of donors or persons who gave her money or gifts, or that she asked for a pay raise, we ask that you submit that information along with any supporting documentation to the RRT within 48 hours. If you believe you need further time, you may request it by email to evansaudrey@me.com. The RRT will review the evidence you submit promptly, and we will then either: (1) find that the flyers do not contain false or misleading information based on the evidence submitted, in which case, we will notify concerned parties; (2) seek further information and evidence; or (3) find that the flyers do contain false or misleading information.

A Finding of False or Misleading Information

The RRT will make a finding that the flyers contain false or misleading information, if either:

(1) You do not respond to this letter in 48 hours or by the deadline established should we grant additional time; or

(2) After carefully studying the information and evidence submitted by both parties, we are persuaded that reasonable cause exists.

If the RRT sustains its conclusions that the mailed flyers contain false or misleading information, we will request that you cease mailing flyers containing false or misleading information, and that you agree to stop making these statements during this election cycle. If you refuse to stop mailing the flyers and refuse to agree not to publish these statements further during this election cycle, then we will take immediate action.

Pursuant to the Rules and Procedures, we are authorized to issue a “Cease and Desist Letter”; publish the Cease and Desist Letter along with any other relevant information on the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee website; and issue press releases informing the public that despite being given an opportunity to be heard, you continue to mail the flyers and you refuse to stop making the same false and misleading statements during this election after being provided proof that the statements are false and misleading, and after our request that you stop.

Our only purpose is to protect the voters in this judicial election from relying on false and misleading information. The voters have the right to make truthfully informed choices when they vote for a member of the Supreme Court. We hope you agree that voters deserve the truth, and will cooperate fully in this process.

Due to website issues, we have accepted amended complaints and additional evidence via email. As time is of the essence, we expect that you will submit your response to this letter to the Team by email to evansaudrey@me.com. Please feel free to email me should you have any questions about the information in this letter.

Sincerely,

Audrey Evans
Chair of the Rapid Response Team

cc: Linda Napper, Campaign for Justice Goodson, napperatcamco@gmail.com
David Sterling campaign, David@VoteDavidSterling.com
Matt Walter, President, RSLC, mwalter@rslc.gop

References:

  • Complaint and amended complaints filed by Linda Napper on behalf of Courtney Goodson for Justice | Link Pages 1-3
  • The Four Exhibits | Item 1 | Item 2 | Item 3 | Item 4
  • The Rapid Response Team’s letters to Linda Napper finding that the complaint lacked sufficient information for it to proceed. | Link
  • The Rapid Response Team Rules and Procedures | Link