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Goodson says she voted against pay raise request

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LITTLE ROCK -- An Arkansas Supreme Court justice suing to block a Washington-based group's attacks against her said Wednesday that she voted against requesting a pay raise for her and other members of the court, contrary to what the group claims in one of its mailers.

Justice Courtney Goodson testified that she was one of two justices to vote privately against asking for the $18,000 raise that the court's chief justice requested from a panel that sets elected state officials' salaries. The panel rejected the request and instead raised justices' pay by 2 percent, giving her a $3,330 raise. Goodson previously declined to say how she voted, saying court votes on internal matters are meant to be confidential.

"I do believe that that conference room of the Supreme Court is sacrosanct," Goodson said during a federal court hearing.

Goodson is suing the Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative over the mailer and a TV ad. Both the TV ad and mailer criticize Goodson over gifts she's received from donors, but the mailer also claims she requested the raise.

Goodson is running against David Sterling, an attorney for the state Department of Human Services, in next week's election. RSLC has spent more than $1.2 million this month on the race. U.S. District Judge Brian Miller said he planned to rule late Wednesday or thisday morning on Goodson's request to halt the ad and mailer.

The mailer and a 15-second TV ad cite a $50,000 trip to Italy that Goodson received in 2012 from W.H. Taylor, an attorney and friend of her husband's. Goodson says she has since recused herself from any cases involving her husband, Taylor or Tyson Foods Inc., a company Taylor has represented.

An attorney for RSLC said the ad and mailer questioning Goodson's fairness because of gifts and donations she's received remains true and noted that Goodson had written the opinion in a 2011 court decision involving Tyson. He also said there had been no record of Goodson opposing the raise request prior to Wednesday's hearing.

"Courtney Goodson had plenty of opportunity to explain her vote before today," David James, a spokesman for RSLC, said after the hearing. "She only did so after being put under oath by her own attorney, as part of her shameless attempt to use the courts to silence our criticism of her record."

A state judge in May ordered another group, the Judicial Crisis Network, to stop running an ad that had cited the pay raise request and the donor gifts through the May 22 judicial election. Goodson lost her bid for chief justice two years ago after facing similar outside attacks from Judicial Crisis, which hasn't run ads since the May election. RSLC is also running a TV ad promoting Sterling's candidacy.

Arkansas is among several states where court races have become more partisan and negative, with outside groups playing a bigger role. Goodson said Wednesday that she's worried about the impact outside groups' attacks are having on the court system.

"This is a much greater fight than just an attack on me," Goodson said. "This is about the independence and the integrity of the judicial system."

State Desk on 11/01/2018

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