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LITTLE ROCK (AP) — An Arkansas appellate judge said Tuesday he's running for state Supreme Court justice, creating a three-person race for a high court that has been the focus of expensive campaigns by outside conservative groups.

State Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson said he plans to file to run for the state Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Courtney Goodson. Goodson filed paperwork Tuesday to seek re-election, and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling filed last week to challenge her in the May nonpartisan judicial election.

Hixson, 61, was first elected to the appeals court in 2012 and was re-elected to a full eight-year term in 2014. Hixson said he and his wife had thought and prayed about the race after being contacted by supporters in recent weeks

"We thought this was the right thing to do," Hixson said.

Goodson was defeated in her bid for chief justice two years ago after conservative groups flooded the state with advertisements and mailers criticizing her. The groups and candidates for that and another high court seat spent more than $1.3 million on TV advertising, a record for the state in a judicial election.

"No matter how many candidates are in the field, my job remains the same," Goodson said after filing. "I will be out among the people of Arkansas seeking to earn their trust and confidence."

The head of one of the groups, the Judicial Crisis Network, last month criticized Goodson as a "liberal judicial activist" but did not say whether it planned to get involved in this year's race. Goodson said she'll be better prepared to respond to what she called "half-truths" about her record if targeted by outside groups.

Hixson said he hoped out of state groups wouldn't be a factor in the campaign.

"I hope it's just a race between the candidates," he said.

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