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story.lead_photo.caption This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock.

Ethics charges brought by judicial regulators against Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen are a politically motivated attack on his religious freedoms that should not be allowed to stand, the judge's lawyers stated Monday.

Friday, Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission special counsel formally accused the 65-year-old jurist of nine violations of the Arkansas Judicial Canon, all stemming from his attendance at an April 2017 prayer vigil and an anti-death penalty protest last year, on the same day he was called on to decide an issue related to execution drugs.

The charges are part of a broader effort to drive Griffen from the bench and bankrupt him, his lawyers claimed in a news release that is the judge's first public response to the accusations.

The disciplinary commission will conduct an as-yet unscheduled hearing to decide the merit of the accusations against Griffen, which could result in his removal from the bench.

"The [commission] has apparently chosen to become complicit in a state-orchestrated and financed political conspiracy against Judge Griffen aimed at forcing him to expend personal funds to defend himself," attorneys Mike Laux of Chicago, Michael Matthews of Florida and Austin Porter of Little Rock said in a two-page statement.

"He will not be intimidated. He will not forsake his faith in God and justice. Nor will he be forced from the office he holds by virtue of the trust conferred by the voters, no matter who else may be displeased by his beliefs and judicial independence."

In filings with the commission on Monday, Griffen demanded that its members dismiss the complaint, stating that he is being punished for exercising his rights.

"[The complaint] demonstrates an irrational and unprecedented hostility toward Judge Griffen and to controlling legal authorities about freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion and freedom of religious expression enshrined in the First Amendment and protected by the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the filing states

Griffen is also questioning why regulators have taken more than a year to act on a complaint that was lodged against him in April 2017. During that time, regulators have failed to respond to his original motion to dismiss filed in May 2017 and have neither turned over investigatory materials he requested then nor explained why they have not done so, Monday's filing states.

The judge is asking the commission to force lead investigator Rachel Michel to quickly answer his demand for a dismissal and also require her to respond to his request for the materials. He also wants a public hearing on his dismissal arguments.

According to the ethics charges, regulators say they did take Griffen's rights into consideration.

"While the [commission] has no basis on which to evaluate Judge Griffen's motives or to question any good-faith belief, the record fails to support any primary religious motive of anti-death penalty vigil, but the record does establish that Judge Griffen was dressed in what appears to be a traditional inmate jumpsuit or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and he was wearing a button or sign that compelled the State of Arkansas to 'end the death penalty,'" the charging documents state.

"Judge Griffen holds a right to free speech, but once Judge Griffen asserted his free speech in unequivocal opposition to the death penalty, he had an obligation to disqualify himself in every case affecting the penalty," the documents say.

The charge states that Griffen should have recused from the lawsuit, a dispute over the ownership of some of the state's execution drugs that was filed the same day he was attending anti-death penalty demonstrations, especially given his well-known antipathy to execution as chronicled in his public writings and speeches.

Griffen temporarily barred prison officials from using the chemicals in question, an order that could have forced the delay of at least two scheduled executions except that it was countermanded by the Arkansas Supreme Court at the request of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The suit had been brought by a drug manufacturer that accused prison officials of duping it into selling the state some execution chemicals, then refusing to honor a promise to return the chemicals.

The high court also stripped Griffen of his authority to hear any litigation, civil or criminal, involving capital punishment, and instigated the complaint to the judicial discipline commission.

The judge who replaced Griffen in hearing the lawsuit also barred the state from using the chemicals, an order that the state high court also overturned before any executions could be delayed.

Griffen has filed his own ethics complaint against the Supreme Court with the judicial commission and is also suing the seven justices in federal court.

Metro on 06/12/2018

Print Headline: Filing: Charges an attack on judge's religious rights

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  • RBear
    June 12, 2018 at 6:15 a.m.

    You go, Judge Griffen. If the religious right wingers are going to throw attacks on religious rights around like candy, why shouldn't you? I love seeing this twist in the plot. We'll see how broad religious rights really are and it will set some good case law for the future.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 12, 2018 at 8:06 a.m.

    RBear...the problem is you can waive just about anything. A defendant can sign a waiver to have attorney present and the list goes on. Judge Griffen took an oath and that oath does not allow him to do this. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, though.

  • Razrbak
    June 12, 2018 at 8:14 a.m.

    Neither Laux nor Matthews hold a license to practice law in the State of Arkansas.

  • skeptic1
    June 12, 2018 at 8:33 a.m.

    Rbear...once again your mouth overshoots the facts. This judge has knowingly violated the Canons all other judges follow. Those Canons state that a judge may not publicly engage in partisan political activities as this judge has done from the time he took the bench. This is not the first time he has used his role as a judge and a minister to push his own agenda. The complaint filed against Griffen has NOTHING to do with his religious beliefs, it has to do with him violating the oath he took.

  • mrcharles
    June 12, 2018 at 9:19 a.m.

    rbear one of your better explanations. As you can see the use of religiion can be a real thorn in modern times when magic is no longer necessary, but is used by the right to get their way, which being divines they believe the voices in their head come from Mt wherever. The use however is reserved to whites, as others are different.

    there was a trial involving the KKK and an FBI infiltrator into the group, the FBI infiltrator was asked a question by the lawyer for the KKK [ a white fraternal organization of protestants] "Did you not take an oath before god?". Knowing the jury of good ole christians would find that like Jephthah once you give your oath you must live by it no matter what the results are.

    Yet rbear you know his days are numbered by being black and outspoken against the trumpetts and the deity system kind like rapter man, that will not be allowed in Arkansas. Go to harrison and just set in a coffee shop and listen to the MM type crowd. Sad commentary by talking primates.

    by the way the defense of " well I know a black" will not work. I know plenty papist and those of the luther heretics [ what a anti-semtic he was ], so back at you.

    I refer all to read about that Scalia guy, he was outspoken about his personal views, and was involved in extreme partisan participation, but of course being white papist [ most of USA got over the pope ruled merican papist] he was predisposed to right wing rulings and made his feelings well known instead of following the law. .

    He will be chastised by a den of vipers.

  • YOUNGT104
    June 12, 2018 at 11:18 a.m.

    I don't care for the Judge, but he does have a point. And Religious Rights it seems is a two sided Sword... All of us old timers have heard in the past where a preacher preaching a sermon that only his religion was going to heaven the others were all sinners. It seems those days are not gone but alive and well in the Great State of Arkansas.... will be interesting to see how this plays out...

  • RBear
    June 12, 2018 at 11:29 a.m.

    skeptic once again you show your ignorance. We'll see how it plays out. I think you really miss the point Griffen is making, which you often do. Griffen is pointing out how absurd religious freedom positions are. Are you saying the KY county clerk is any different? Granted, this is a stretch case but it'll be fun to watch.

  • GOHOGS19
    June 12, 2018 at 12:44 p.m.

    weak argument as usual from Juddge Griffen. If he was not a judge none of this would be an issue. when you take the oath you accept certain conditions, one important being avoiding conflicts of interest or the appearance of those conflicts. It's very simple.

  • Jfish
    June 12, 2018 at 1:28 p.m.

    Exactly skeptic and GOHOGS, you cannot have your cake and eat it too as a judge. I wonder how much money Griffen has cost the taxpayers over the years with his personal agenda?

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