LITTLE ROCK — A sitting member of the Arkansas Supreme Court and a circuit judge are competing for the position of chief justice on the state’s top court.

LITTLE ROCK — A sitting member of the Arkansas Supreme Court and a circuit judge are competing for the position of chief justice on the state’s top court.


Justice Courtney Goodson of Fayetteville and Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View are vying for the position now held by Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill, whom Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed to replace the late Jim Hannah.


Goodson, 43, has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Arkansas. She worked as a law clerk for the Arkansas Court of Appeals from 1997 to 2005 and was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2010.


She and her husband, John, have three children and one stepchild.


Kemp, 64, also has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Arkansas. In 1976 he was elected Mountain View city attorney, and the following year he was appointed municipal judge by then-Gov. David Pryor. He held that position until 1986, when he was first elected circuit judge, a position he has held ever since.


He and his wife, Susan, have two children.


Kemp said he is running because of concerns about recent developments on the court.


"There’s been a lot of articles in the past five years that raise some concerns about the impartiality of our judiciary," he said. "And it seems like our culture and our morals and our values are being undermined. I just didn’t feel like I could sit back any longer and let that happen. I want to be part of the solution."


If elected, Kemp said he will push for a new code of ethics that would ban justices and judges from accepting gifts or personal benefits. He said the idea was partly inspired by Goodson’s disclosures that she has received valuable personal gifts from her husband, a class-action lawyer.


Kemp also said he would push for new rules requiring a judge or justice to recuse in a case where there is a conflict of interest, an idea he said was inspired by former Central Arkansas Circuit Judge Michael Maggio, who pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for reducing a jury award in a civil case, although he currently is seeking to withdraw the plea.


"When something like that happens we all lose, because it’s a real black eye on the judiciary," Kemp said.


Kemp also said he would "handle all cases expeditiously," noting news reports and editorials about the Supreme Court’s "delays."


The Arkansas Supreme Court granted expedited consideration to a case on same-sex marriage in the fall of 2014, but it still had not issued a decision by the time the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in all 50 states last June — after which the state Supreme Court dismissed the Arkansas case as moot. In early 2015, Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson went public with complaints that some of the justices were deliberately delaying action.


The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission later reviewed the court’s handling of the case and found no wrongdoing.


Goodson said she is running for the chief justice seat because she knows the strengths of each member of the court and believes she can bring out the best in them by leading the court.


"I’m the only candidate for chief justice who has heard a death penalty appeal, the only candidate who has decided a constitutional appeal, and I’m the only candidate who has worked with all six other justices to decide difficult cases," she said. "This job is too important for on-the-job training. I am in my sixth year of service already on the Supreme Court serving as a justice. The chief justice should know this job before she gets the job. I can hit the ground running the day I’m sworn in."


Goodson said the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee found that she did nothing wrong in accepting the gifts that Kemp referenced.


"For Dan Kemp to continuously repeat these allegations — and publicly welcome their support — knowing that the Judicial Ethics Commission did a thorough review and took the unprecedented step of writing a letter to confirm that I complied with every single rule? For me, that raises a lot of questions about him," she said.


The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, a group that does not have to disclose its donors has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads attacking Goodson. She said Arkansas needs to get "dark money" out of its judicial races.


"We have well in excess of a million dollars flowing into this state propping up my opponent," she said. "We don’t know what their agenda is, why they are supporting him or what conflicts may arise from their overwhelming support of his campaign. Its going to take a chief justice like me, who has been through a fire like this, to be the one to finally stand up to the secret interest groups and demand an end to lies and half-truths and innuendo that feed dark money groups."


Goodson said it is unfortunate that "Dan Kemp refuses to demand this organization get these ads off our TVs and radios and out of our mailboxes. He’s done nothing to insist they get out of our state. Why? Because his campaign benefits from every dollar they spend attacking me, and Dan Kemp won’t win without them."


Kemp said, "I don’t have any knowledge of these groups — I didn’t before they started the ads. I don’t have any association with them or any kind of coordination with them."


But Kemp said he did issue a statement criticizing the Judicial Crisis Network when it accused Goodson — unfairly, he said — of opening the door to illegal immigrants voting in Arkansas elections by voting to strike down a law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.


"These outside organizations are exercising that First Amendment right. The problem comes when they either produce a false advertisement or a misleading advertisement," Kemp said.


On Thursday, liberal blogger Matt Campbell filed a complaint with the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission alleging that Kemp violated ethics rules in November by approving a plea agreement for a defendant whose parents each donated $2,500 to Kemp’s campaign 16 days later.


Kemp’s daughter and campaign manager, Erin Brogdon, said in a statement Friday, "We have great trust that voters will see this desperate attack for what it is. The facts are simple, Judge Kemp is not involved in the fundraising aspects of this campaign. Furthermore, the plea agreement in question was negotiated and agreed to by the prosecutor, not the judge, back in 2014 — practically a year prior to the judge’s decision to run in this race."


If Goodson wins the election, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will appoint someone to the position she holds now. She will continue in her present position if she loses.


Early voting continues Monday in Tuesday’s primary and nonpartisan judicial election.