LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Republican group announced Tuesday it's bought $250,000 worth of time to run television ads criticizing a Little Rock lawyer running for the Arkansas Supreme Court, the latest outside money flowing in to the state's top judicial races.
The Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative launched the ad, which it says will air in multiple markets throughout Arkansas. The ads accuse attorney Clark Mason, who is running against Circuit Judge Shawn Womack in the March 1 election, of collecting high fees from his clients. Womack is a former Republican state legislator.
"Meet Clark 'Ka-Ching' Mason, the ultimate jackpot personal injury trial lawyer," the narrator says in the 30-second spot.
Mason denounced the ad and said the group is trying to hide his rival's drawbacks, including a $50 fine Womack received in 2007 from a conduct panel for not filing paperwork in his private profession as a lawyer in a child support case and over his recusal from a criminal case in 2014. An assistant to Womack wrote in a letter at the time that a more experienced judge should handle the case.
"Why would we ever elect a person to the Supreme Court who admits he was not qualified to handle cases in a lower court?" Mason said in a statement.
Womack said he didn't know about the group's ad beforehand and called Mason's criticism "nonsense." He noted he hadn't written the letter but said he didn't handle the case because in his circuit two other judges routinely handle criminal cases. He called Mason's criticism ironic since the Little Rock attorney specializes in civil, not criminal cases.
"My campaign has been all about me and my record," Womack said. "It's sad he has to resort to doing negative stuff."
Mason also called the ad "repulsive" for including a picture of his wife, saying the group should focus its attacks on him. Womack also said he didn't believe it was right for the group to include a picture of Mason's wife.
The two are running for the state Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Justice Paul Danielson. It's one of two open seats on the seven-member court.
The RSLC, which has also sent mailers targeting Mason, is an emerging player in judicial races nationwide and spent roughly $3.7 million on judicial races in eight states during the 2014 election. The group, which had been active in other state races, launched its initiative in 2014 to elect conservative judges and candidates.
The group's top donors so far this election cycle include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tobacco company Reynolds American and Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The group has also sent a mailer criticizing Justice Courtney Goodson and is airing a radio ad promoting Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, her rival in the race for chief justice.
The ads are part of a campaign for the high court seats that's been dominated by outside spending. The Judicial Crisis Network bought more than $604,000 of airtime to run TV spots on ads criticizing Goodson, according to Justice at Stake and Brennan Center for Justice, which track spending on judicial races.
Goodson has condemned the ads and accused Kemp of coordinating with the group, which isn't required by law to disclose its donors. Kemp has said he has no prior knowledge of the ads.
Total TV spending by outside groups and candidates for both seats has exceeded $1 million, more than doubling the record set in the state six years ago.
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