Mon, Apr 17, 2017 - Page 4 News List

US judge’s anti-death-penalty protest in Arkansas outrages conservatives


Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, on gurney, takes part in demonstration against the death penalty outside the Arkansas governor’s mansion on Friday in the state capital, Little Rock.

Photo: AP / Sherry Simon

After barring Arkansas from executing eight inmates in rapid succession because of a dispute over how it obtained one of its execution drugs, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen went to a rally against the death penalty, where he made a stir by lying down on a cot and binding himself as though he were a condemned man on a gurney.

Griffen’s participation in the protest on Friday outside the governor’s mansion sparked outrage among death penalty supporters, including Republican lawmakers who described it as judicial misconduct and potential grounds for his removal from the bench.

Griffen said he is morally opposed to the death penalty and that his personal beliefs alone should not disqualify him from taking up certain cases.

For years, he has been pushing the boundaries of how much a judge can speak out on controversial issues.

“We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs, yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside,” Griffen said on Saturday.

Griffen on Friday granted a restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs it uses in executions, because the supplier said the state misleadingly obtained the drug.

The ruling came a day before a federal judge halted the executions on different grounds.

However, the supplier on Saturday sought to drop its lawsuit and have Griffen’s order lifted, because it believed the federal ruling removed the imminent risk its drug would be used in executions.

The back-to-back decisions upend what had initially been a plan to execute eight men in 11 days in four double executions starting tonight, because the state’s supply of one of the other execution drugs expires at the end of the month.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Saturday also asked the state’s highest court to vacate Griffen’s ruling, citing his participation in anti-death penalty events before and after he issued it, and asked for a new judge to be assigned the case.

“This court should put a stop to the games being played by a judge who is obviously unable to preside over this case impartially,” Rutledge wrote in her request.

Griffen declined to comment on the demonstration or his ruling, saying he would address any questions about it at a hearing he scheduled for tomorrow.

Lawmakers have suggested the move might be grounds for the Arkansas House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings, saying the demonstration and a blog post Griffen wrote on the death penalty this week might amount to “gross misconduct” under the state constitution.

“He is outside the bounds of normal behavior for most judges probably anywhere in America,” Republican state Senator Jason Rapert said.

It is also unclear whether the move would prompt action from the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the panel over remarks he made criticizing then-US president George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

The panel ultimately dropped its case against him.

Griffen, 64, is a Baptist minister who was first elected as Pulaski County judge in 2010.

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