LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge who participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor’s mansion two years ago has asked the state Supreme Court to allow him to handle execution-related cases again.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Monday petitioned the high court, which disqualified him from hearing criminal and civil cases involving capital punishment after he was photographed in April 2017 wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding signs opposing executions. Before the demonstration, Griffen had blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug over the claims that officials misled a medical supply company.
Griffen, who is black, said in his filing that no white member of the state’s judiciary has similarly been banned from hearing and deciding an entire category of cases. He noted in the filing that a white judge who pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2017 was only barred from presiding over any DWI cases for eight months.
Griffen’s petition also cites a disciplinary panel’s decision to dismiss an ethics case against the judge arising from the demonstration. The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission said too much time had passed between the complaint being filed and the commission taking up the case. His attorneys argued that the disqualification violates Griffen’s constitutional rights and the rights of voters who elected him to handle cases in their district.
“Petitioner has engaged in extrajudicial conduct, in his personal capacity and as a pastor in the religion of Jesus, that involves expression of his personal moral and religious opposition to capital punishment based on his personal and religious conviction that the death penalty is morally — not legally — unjustifiable,” the filing said. “At the same time, petitioner has never made any statement, pledge or promise that committed him to rule for or against any party in any case, including any civil or criminal case involving the death penalty or method of execution.”
A federal judge last year dismissed Griffen’s lawsuit against the state Supreme Court challenging his disqualification. A federal appeals court in August said it wouldn’t revive Griffen’s lawsuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court in February left that decision in place.