We’ve always been fond of the maxim “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” A corollary that applies particularly to the judicial system is “appearances matter,” meaning the appearance of impartiality is almost as important as impartiality itself. Both are integral to trust in the judicial system, without which the United States may as well be Afghanistan, Cambodia or Venezuela, the three countries coming in last in the 2017-18 Rule of Law Index produced by the World Justice Project.
Last week, we urged readers to stay suspicious about an outside “dark money” group, the Judicial Crisis Network, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising against Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson in her race against Kenneth Hixson, a state Court of Appeals judge, and David Sterling, chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The Judicial Crisis Network doesn’t disclose its funders.
This is an Opinion
Last Monday, Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin issued a temporary restraining order preventing some TV stations from running the ads after Goodson filed suit. On Tuesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (bless it) reported that Martin received income, through his wife, from the law firm of Goodson’s husband, John. On Wednesday, Martin recused himself from the case, at the request of Justice Goodson’s lawyers.
One of the few things the national press got right about Arkansas during the Bill Clinton years was that we are a small state and everybody pretty much does know everybody. But it’s not too small to find an impartial judge to hear Goodson’s lawsuit. Martin may have, in fact, acted impartially, but nothing about the situation appears impartial. Judge Martin’s failure to recuse himself from the case at the start undercuts faith in the judicial system and is just as worrisome as the dark money seeking to influence the Supreme Court election.