Circuit Judge Doug Martin, an Arkansas judge who issued a restraining order barring broadcast of a political ad attacking his own associates and campaign donors, has recused himself after The Daily Caller News Foundation first revealed his conflicts of interest.
The ad in question criticized Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson for accepting gifts from an attorney who argues before her. Her defamation case against the ad’s creators will be assigned to another judge, though the restraining order remains in effect.
Goodson is standing for reelection to the state Supreme Court on May 22. She drew two challengers. Judicial elections in Arkansas are nonpartisan.
The piece was produced by the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a Washington-based conservative advocacy group. The justice brought a defamation suit against JCN, and asked the Washington County Circuit Court to enjoin its broadcast. Martin issued a restraining order, known as a TRO, forbidding dissemination of the ad on several television stations.
TheDCNF reported on Tuesday night that Martin accepted campaign contributions from individuals referenced in the ad. In addition, his wife has substantial business connections to Goodson’s husband. Mrs. Martin owns an equity share in a consultancy Mr. Goodson owns, and the pair are both featured on the masthead of a Washington lobbying shop. (RELATED: This State Supreme Court Justice Is In A Brutal Reelection Race. Then A Friendly Judge Gagged Her Opponents)
“You can’t make this stuff up,” said Carrie Severino, JCN’s chief counsel and policy director. “Judge Martin should be standing up for free speech instead of trying to protect his campaign donor and buddies.”
Martin did not respond to TheDCNF’s inquiries.
Leading First Amendment scholars found the decision dubious, while Rita Sklar of the Arkansas ACLU raised the prospect of further litigation.
“This restraining order is clearly unconstitutional given that it involves the pre-emptive suppression of political speech on a matter of public concern – where the First Amendment’s protections are strongest,” Sklar said in a statement.
“We are monitoring the case closely and evaluating our legal options.”
The case will now be reassigned by the administrative judge of the Washington County Circuit Court.
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