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Lethal Injection

Arkansas Executions: Censured Judge Calls for Probe of State AG, High Court

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge who blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug on the same day he participated in a death penalty protest called on Wednesday for a probe into the state Attorney General’s Office and the state Supreme Court's decision to remove him from future execution cases.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen, at a news conference with three civil rights attorneys, said he would be filing ethics charges against a number of state officials, alleging that they took away his power to decide on death penalty cases in a series of clandestine backroom court filings without affording him due process or notifying him.

Griffen and his lawyers filed the charges with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission and the Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct.

Image: Judge Wendell Griffen portrays a prisoner on a gurney during a protest against executions in front of the Governor's Mansion
Judge Wendell Griffen portrays a prisoner on a gurney during a protest against executions in front of the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Ark. on April 14, 2017. Mitchell McCoy / KARK

The Arkansas Attorney General's Office questioned Griffen's judicial integrity after he tied himself to a cot, representing a condemned inmate on a gurney, during a Good Friday prayer vigil outside the governor's mansion. Just hours earlier, Griffen had blocked the state's use of a key lethal injection drug via a temporary restraining order.

Griffen, who is also a Christian preacher, attended the vigil with members of his congregation.

"I believe that as an American citizen I have the blessing of being able to live out my faith," Griffen said during the press conference, noting that his court docket does not influence his faith or vice versa. "I believe that as an American citizen I have the blessing to live out my faith every day — especially on the holy day we call Good Friday."

Griffen, who cited the Bible and Greek mythology during the press conference, argued the state's highest court and the attorney general ignored his First Amendment and due process rights.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for AG Leslie Rutledge, said "the Attorney General will review the letter in time and if necessary respond in the appropriate venue."

Civil Rights lawyer Austin Porter, Jr. also noted a number of white judges who were found guilty of committing criminal acts, without state officials calling for impeachment. Porter noted however, that a number of Republican members of Arkansas's legislature called for Griffen — who is black — to be removed from his judgeship for attending the prayer vigil. Black judges, Porter alleged, are held to a different standard in Arkansas.

"I'll pull a country thing," Griffen said when asked about Porter's claims, "I 10-time, double-dog dare you to disprove his facts."

The Arkansas Supreme Court did not respond to requests for comment.

Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission Director David Sachar declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but said he would provide any information that could be shared with the public as the case proceeds.