Arkansas Judge Asks to Be Put Back on Death-Penalty Cases

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – An Arkansas judge whose participation in a 2017 anti-death penalty rally led to his lifetime ban from hearing capital-punishment cases is asking the state Supreme Court to restore his ability to hear cases involving the death penalty.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, who is black, said in his filing on Monday to the high court that it had no legal grounds to disqualify him from overseeing criminal and civil death penalty cases, and that no white member of the Arkansas judiciary “has ever been summarily banned from hearing and deciding an entire category of cases.”

Judge Wendell Griffen lies on a cot at an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock, Ark., on April 14, 2017.  (Sherry Simon via AP, File)

Griffen stepped into the death-penalty debate two years ago at the peak of Arkansas’ rush to execute an unprecedented eight inmates before its supply of the lethal-injection drug midazolam expired.

Just hours after ruling in favor of a pharmaceutical company’s request to block the state from using vecuronium bromide in its executions, Griffen joined protesters in front of the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, strapped to a makeshift gurney and sporting an anti-death penalty button. Photos showed the judge, who is also a Baptist pastor, lying on a cot appearing to be loosely tied down by rope and surrounded by demonstrators who carried signs opposing the state’s execution plan.

The Arkansas Supreme Court removed Griffen from the case and his order was lifted two days later. The state proceeded to execute four men in eight days before its batch of the drug expired.

In his restoration petition filed Monday, Griffen argued that a white judge who pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and reckless driving was only removed from presiding over any DWI cases for eight month. He also noted that the dismissal of his ethics case by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission earlier this month eliminated any basis to punish him.

That ethics case was dismissed on June 14 because of the commission’s failure to prosecute the allegations within the 18-month time limit.

Griffen’s civil rights lawsuit against all seven members of the Arkansas Supreme Court was dismissed last year for failure to state plausible claims for relief. The Eighth Circuit upheld the ruling.

Griffen was elected to the bench in 2010 and re-elected in 2016.

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