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Lawmakers call for removal of Pulaski County judge after second death-penalty protest

By Brandon Riddle

This article was originally published April 18, 2018 at 11:17 a.m. Updated April 18, 2018 at 4:29 p.m.


Opponents of the death penalty pray beside Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen during a demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday.

At least two lawmakers are calling for the removal of a Pulaski County judge after he publicly protested against the death penalty for the second time.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen again lay motionless as he strapped himself to a cot Tuesday evening outside the Governor’s Mansion.

In a statement, state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, called the protest a “pathetic and depressing display.”

“He has disgraced the office that he holds for years and now is using a desperate, attention seeking move to further bring shame on himself,” Garner wrote.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, agreed in a Wednesday morning post on Twitter.

“It is time for #ARLeg to move to impeach Judge Wendell Griffen. Our justice system must be fair and impartial, and is no place for activism,” Ballinger said.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said he hasn't talked with any members about initiating impeachment proceedings against Griffen. Articles of impeachment would need to be co-sponsored by at least 34 House members for the impeachment process to begin in that chamber.

In a Wednesday statement, Griffen said he remains as committed to the law and his First Amendment right to express his "moral and religious" opposition to the death penalty as he was a year ago when he was disqualified from capital punishment cases for participating in a similar demonstration.

“We are still killing,” the judge told onlookers Tuesday when asked why he returned.

He added in his Wednesday statement that his resolve and hope are "stronger than ever."

Griffen has sued the state’s Supreme Court justices, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights. A federal judge dismissed the high court itself but allowed proceedings against its seven justices to continue.

Meanwhile, Griffen’s attorney, Michael Laux, argued that the judge “has the constitutional right to do this, and we will prove it, if need be.”

“Whether praying or protesting — it doesn’t matter. Both are protected under the First Amendment,” Laux said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Comments on: Lawmakers call for removal of Pulaski County judge after second death-penalty protest

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RBear says... April 18, 2018 at 11:26 a.m.

Trent Garner and Bob Ballinger, two peas in a pod. Garner's the one who advocates for more gun rights laws and Ballinger prefers to discriminate against some Arkansans because of who they love. Oh, and isn't Ballinger the one who's tied to that mess involving Ecclessia up in NW Arkansas? Not exactly poster boys for ethics and safety.

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teachercop says... April 18, 2018 at 11:49 a.m.

This gentleman needs to retire and take his show on the road..maybe Texas, Alabama, or Saudi Arabia..I am sure they would welcome him there. He should be removed from the bench. Then he and his lawyers can try to sue the legislature.

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RBBrittain says... April 18, 2018 at 1:33 p.m.

I'm pretty sure it takes a majority of the House to impeach *and* 2/3rds of the Senate to convict & remove an officer under the Arkansas Constitution, just like the U.S. Constitution. (It's arguable whether or not a special session must be called to do it.) Garner & Ballinger are just itching to add 135 more losing defendants to Judge Griffen's lawsuit. The judicial oath of office does NOT include a waiver of First Amendment rights!

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Machiavelli says... April 18, 2018 at 2:11 p.m.

Although the impeachment and removal itself might be subject to review in theory, state legislators have an absolute immunity from liability for damages in a federal civil rights lawsuit when they act "in a field where legislators traditionally have power to act." That would obviously include the power to impeach a judge.

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crnelson says... April 18, 2018 at 2:16 p.m.

I support Judge Griffen's right of assembly and his right to protest as a citizen of this country. The rights of the individual is not suppressed because of his occupation. Civilization must be civil to all in America. His objectivity as a judge is not compromised.

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ArkMan says... April 18, 2018 at 2:32 p.m.

So he's a judge that won't uphold the law in death penalty cases so he increases the workload of the other judges. If he's going to use public forums to advocate for political issues, we have to assume he has the judicial disposition to suppress his personal feelings and follow the law at trial. Sadly, he hasn't demonstrated that ability. Unfortunately just another person achieving a position based on factors other than being qualified for the job.

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Government4thePeople says... April 18, 2018 at 2:33 p.m.

Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 2.10 (A) "A judge shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make any nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing." There are also other rules that address the impartiality of judges in general if anyone cares to read them.

So, here we have Wendell Griffen who makes a ruling in a death penalty case in the morning and then takes his judge's robe off so he can run across town and lay on a gurney to protest the death penalty, again, something he had just made a ruling on moments earlier. You people defending Wendell Griffen obviously don't get it so I will spell it out for you. He has blatantly demonstrated that he is not impartial as a judge should be. He should, therefore, be removed from the bench.

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Whippersnapper says... April 18, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.

I'm just curious regarding how many of the commenters supporting the judge's right to voice his opinion and still be impartial would feel the same way if he participated in a protest against gay "marriage" or attended the March for Life protesting against abortion. The rule is that judges have to not only be impartial, they have to avoid any appearance of impartiality, and attending a rally in favor of or opposed to any issue that may come before them on the bench is the exact opposite of avoiding any appearance of partiality.

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Popsmith says... April 18, 2018 at 4:16 p.m.

I'm not keen on the death penalty, but it's a judge's job to enact the law, not make it.

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