Arkansas Supreme Court Justice reports $50k gift from plaintiff lawyer

By Michelle Keahey | Feb 12, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) - Supreme Court Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson reported late last month that she received a trip worth $50,000 to Italy in 2012 from plaintiff attorney W.H. Taylor, a friend of her class action attorney husband John C. Goodson.

Justice Goodson and her husband both reported the gift from Taylor in their recent statements of financial interest filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State.

In a statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a spokesman for the jurist said that Goodson would recuse herself from any cases involving Taylor.

The European trip is not the first extravagance Taylor has bestowed upon the justice. According to state financial disclosure statements, Goodson accepted a $12,000 Caribbean cruise from Taylor in 2011.

Justice Goodson recently attracted media attention after visiting briefly with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in what was described as a "courtesy" meeting on the same day the high court heard oral arguments in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, a case arising from Miller County, Arkansas and one being litigated by her husband.

According to Arkansas Business, Arkansas Supreme Court spokeswoman Stephanie Harris said the meeting took place shortly after oral arguments, held on Jan. 7.

"Justice Scalia and Justice Goodson exchanged pleasantries," said Harris, according to Arkansas Business. "Justice Scalia was made aware of Justice Goodson's husband's involvement in the case before he extended the courtesy to her. They never spoke about the case."

The Arkansas Business also reported that Kathy Arberg, a public information officer for the U.S. Supreme Court, said, "Justice Scalia briefly greeted Justice Goodson, whom he did not know, at the request of one of her colleagues on the Arkansas Supreme Court. The extending of such a courtesy is not at all uncommon."

The central argument in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles concerns efforts by lawyers, including Goodson, to place monetary limits on class actions in an effort to keep the lawsuits in so-called plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions such as Miller County.

The underlying "Knowles" class action - which claims that Standard Fire breached its contract by systematically underpaying loss claims - was initiated by attorney Goodson, who has made millions in attorney's fees from similar cases in Miller County Circuit Court.

Goodson's firm, Keil & Goodson of Texarkana, Ark., Nix Patterson & Roach of Austin, Texas and Taylor's firm of Taylor Law Partners in Fayetteville, Ark. have repeatedly filed stipulations in class action cases that prevent plaintiffs and class members from receiving more than $5 million to keep the lawsuits in Arkansas state court. Damages exceeding $5 million would automatically move claims to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue before the end of its current term.

In December, Justice Goodson was also in the news for being named as the Arkansas Supreme Court's liaison to its Committee on Professional Conduct, which oversees the ethical performance of lawyers.

Justice Goodson was first sworn in as a judge of the Arkansas Court of Appeals in May 2008 and stayed in that office until she left for the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2011.

She is currently serving an eight-year term, which will end in 2018. During her most recent campaign for the high court, she ran on a family-interest platform.

Shortly after her election, her husband of 14 years, Mark Henry, sued for divorce. She married John Goodson about a year later.

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