Arkansas Lege Takes Aim at Anti-Death Penalty Judge

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – An Arkansas judge’s protest of the death penalty spurred the Arkansas state House to approve impeachment rules to spell out the procedure for removing an elected official from office.

The state House approved the rules Wednesday by 73-13 vote after weeks of calls from Republicans to impeach Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin.

Griffin stepped into the death penalty debate on April 14 when he granted a pharmaceutical company’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in its executions.

Just hours later, 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 show the judge lying on a cot appearing to be loosely tied down by rope while demonstrators around him carried opposing the state’s plan to execute an unprecedented eight inmates in 11 days.

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 supply of midazolam expired at the end of April.

Griffen, 64, is being investigated for potential judicial misconduct and could face punishment by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

The judge has called on two disciplinary panels to investigate his own complaints of ethics violations against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the state Supreme Court. He has publicly defended his actions as free speech.

State Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, called for Griffen’s impeachment this week, saying he is not fit to be on the bench.

“The irony of Griffen calling for an ethics investigation against anyone would be laughable if this were not such a serious issue,” Garner said.

“Because of his gross misconduct in office, I am calling for the Arkansas House of Representatives to bring an article of impeachment against Judge Wendell Griffen. He should never again be allowed to hold office of any sort in Arkansas. We as the General Assembly can remove the stain that Griffen has left on our judicial integrity,” Garner added.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam told The Associated Press there are no immediate plans to impeach Griffen, but that a procedure needs to be in place should the situation arise.

The new rules, House Resolution 1001, give the state House the power to initiate impeachment proceedings “by filing articles of impeachment in the form of a House Resolution, co-sponsored by at least 34 members.”

A committee would be tasked by the speaker to investigate the claims, and if impeachment is found to be warranted, submit the issue to the full House for a vote. A majority vote, 51 members, would be required to carry out the impeachment.

The Arkansas Legislature has never impeached an official in the more than 140 years since adopting its state constitution.

Judge Griffen in 2015 ordered Arkansas officials to recognize the marriages of more than 500 same-sex couples performed during a brief window the year before. His ruling, which also forced the state to extend married-couples benefits to the group, came weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

Griffen criticized the state supreme court in a March ruling, for overturning his finding that concealing the state’s supplier of its lethal injection drugs was unconstitutional. He called the high court’s ruling “more than troubling, and more than shameful.”

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

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