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Hearing for Arkansas judge who protested death penalty put off until '19

Investigator in ethics case called away on military orders by John Moritz | September 22, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's final hearing over ethics charges stemming from his 2017 protest of the death penalty will be delayed until next year, the state's judicial watchdog commission said Friday.

Griffen, who was formally charged in June with violating Arkansas' judicial canons, has fought unsuccessfully to have the case against him dismissed. He argues that his protest -- in which he appeared to be strapped to a cot in front of the Governor's Mansion on Good Friday 2017 -- is protected by religious and free-speech rights.

Originally set for a hearing Oct. 5, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission decided on a postponement Friday because the special counselor who was investigating Griffen received military orders that will make her unavailable until February 2019.

The commission voted to delay the hearing until March 22.

In addition, the commission made the decision to seek an additional attorney from Arkansas to serve as co-counsel in the meantime.

The attorney who was called away on military orders, Rachel Michel, works for the Mississippi Commission of Judicial Performance, which operates in a similar manner to Arkansas' judicial commission.

"Our only comment is that we wish we had been given notice by Ms. Michel sooner," said Michael Laux, Griffen's attorney, in an email Friday. "That said, we wish her the best with her military activities."

Griffen filed a countercomplaint against the seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court, alleging that they improperly and hastily moved to strip the circuit court judge of his ability to hear all cases involving the death penalty after his protest.

An entirely separate case has arisen out of that complaint. The commission on Thursday found probable cause in Griffen's allegations and filed charges alleging violations of judicial canons and rules of judicial conduct by six of the seven members of the state Supreme Court.

The justices have 30 days to respond to the charges. During their meeting Friday morning, the commissioners decided that without a response, there was no action to take in the cases involving the justices.

The dueling complaints against Griffen and the Supreme Court justices led to both of the commission's full-time attorneys recusing in 2017. In their place, the commission appointed Michel and J. Brent Standridge, an attorney from Benton, to investigate the claims.

Both Standridge and Michel agreed to work pro bono for the commission, with up to $4,000 in expenses paid for.

Earlier on the day that Griffen appeared at the protest at the Governor's Mansion, he issued an order that temporarily brought to a halt the state's plans to carry out a series of executions.

The Supreme Court overturned Griffen's order, as well as an identical ruling that came from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray. Both Gray and Griffen had ruled that the state could not use vecuronium bromide, one of the three drugs in its execution protocol, after its manufacturer raised objections and accused the state of fraudulently acquiring the drug.

The state carried out four of the executions scheduled for April 2017.

Metro on 09/22/2018

Print Headline: Griffen hearing put off until '19

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