TEXARKANA, Ark. - When John C. Goodson stands before Miller County District Judge Kirk Johnson to advance America's biggest lawsuit, Goodson stands where Johnson used to stand and Johnson sits where Goodson's father used to sit.
Johnson prosecuted crimes prior to donning a judicial robe and the late District Judge John W. Goodson presided over many of Johnson's cases.
For Judge Goodson's obituary in the Arkansas Gazette, Johnson said, "He was extremely helpful to me and helped me be a better trial attorney."
Johnson told the newspaper, Goodson "caused you to see the human side rather than just the legal side of issues and that was major for me."
Now Johnson and Judge Goodson's son hold most of the automobile insurance industry in the palms of their four hands.
A class action that Goodson proposed in 2005 has generated $73 million in fees, according to an insurer's brief, and the litigation has hardly begun.
When their local connection draws national attention, they shut the doors.
In May, Johnson sealed a Goodson motion in the insurance case and excluded a reporter for a national news service from a hearing on the motion.
Goodson filed suit in 2005 for Georgia Hensley of Fowke, Ark., against Computer Sciences Corporation and 581 insurers.
Goodson claimed insurers used Computer Sciences software, Colossus, to cheat victims of crashes involving uninsured and underinsured motorists.
Goodson moved to certify Hensley as representative of a plaintiff class.
Most defendants had never sold insurance in Arkansas, but Goodson argued that Miller County could exercise jurisdiction under a conspiracy theory.
The roster of defendants included the top ten auto insurers, except State Farm. It also included many insurers who didn't belong there.
Texas-based American National Lloyd's Insurance Company got scooped into the massive suit and has been waiting two years for Johnson in to rule on its motion for summary judgment: it does not sell auto insurance and does not have a license to use any of the software programs named in the litigation.
Defendant American National County Mutual Insurance Company only sells insurance in Texas, ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company only sells insurance in Louisiana and Pacific Property and Casualty Company only sells insurance in California.
Goodson voluntarily dropped a few accidental targets, but he has resisted challenges of other insurers to Arkansas jurisdiction.
Johnson has neither ruled on those challenges nor has he ruled on motions to dismiss from insurers who claim they never received proper notice of the lawsuit.
He hasn't reached a decision on class certification either, and in Arkansas that works in Goodson's favor.
According to the Arkansas Supreme Court, no one can argue the merits of a proposed class action until a judge has ruled on class certification.
The Supreme Court regularly declares that class action is fair to both sides. In such a climate, one doesn't need an admirer of one's father to succeed.
In 2006, Miller County District Judge Joe Griffin awarded $30 million to a group Goodson led when Google Inc. settled a claim that it cheated advertisers.
Last year, Miller County District Judge Jim Hudson granted preliminary approval to settlement of a claim that Sunbeam made faulty heaters, with a $7.5 million fee for Goodson's group.
In Arkadelphia, Ark., 73 miles northwest of Texarkana on Interstate 30, a Clark County court allowed Goodson's group to split a $29.2 million fee after settling a claim against manufacturers of steel utility tubes that might attract lightning to homes.
Before Goodson specialized in class actions, he practiced criminal law.
In 1998, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Goodson client Kenneth Stuart of a conviction for illegal purchase of a firearm.
In 1999, the Court rejected an appeal from Goodwin client Karriem Muhammad of a conviction for cocaine possession.
Goodson suffered another setback at the Court in 2000, in a civil case.
He argued for tax purposes that Ed and Jane Warmack didn't live in their home in Texarkana, but the Court declared they did because they spent most of their time there, drove with that address on their licenses, and voted in Texarkana.
In 2003, the Court's committee on professional conduct reprimanded Goodson for keeping $4,404 that he owed to a doctor.
The doctor, David W. Fisher, filed a complaint after Goodson told him he wouldn't pay because he didn't have the money.
Fisher had treated accident victims that Goodson represented.
The committee found that Goodson failed to tell Fisher he settled the claim and failed to honor a letter of protection and a lien in the doctor's favor.
The committee assessed Goodson $50 in costs.
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