Supreme Court denies Ark. judge’s call to reverse barring from death penalty cases

An African American judge, who had openly protested the death penalty and had been banned from presiding over them, lost his legal bid to regain the ability

Death Penalty
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution at an August 2018 news conference in Little Rock, Ark. The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by a judge in Arkansas who was barred from overseeing execution-related cases after he participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo, File)

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a request by an Arkansas judge to renew his ability to preside over death penalty cases.

Pulaski County, Ark., Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen had that ability stripped after a photo surfaced of him taking part in an anti death penalty demonstration in 2017 outside of the governor’s mansion in Little Rock. Griffen, who was taking part in the demonstration due to his role as a Baptist minister, lay on a cot face-up in the photo, with his hat in his lap and wearing an anti death penalty button. He appeared to be posing as an inmate who has been executed.

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On the same day that Griffen took part in the protest, he also presided over a case in which he blocked prison authorities from using a particular execution drug, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

The Arkansas Supreme Court stripped Griffen of the ability to preside over death penalty cases in April 2017.

Griffen sued to have the decision reversed, claiming that it violated his rights of due-process, religion and free speech because the judges — who issued the ruling three days after the protest — acted without notice and gave him no chance to defend himself, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

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A U.S. District judge in Little Rock refused to hear Griffen’s arguments as did the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In December, he took his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, as is usual, did not give a reason for declining to review the case.

Griffen and the seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court brought ethics complaints against one another. Griffen’s ethics complaint against the justices was rejected by a judicial commission last November but the ethics complaint against Griffen will go forward, according to the Democrat-Gazette. In that action Griffen could potentially be stripped of his judgeship.

Griffen was elected to his current post in 2010 and returned in an unopposed election in 2016.

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