Judge protest­ing death penalty faces dis­ci­pline

Two in­mates granted stays as le­gal bat­tles con­tinue

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

A state judge who railed against the death penalty at protest ral­lies while he blocked ex­e­cu­tions in his court­room ran afoul of the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court on Mon­day as the le­gal fight over a planned spate of ex­e­cu­tions con­tin­ued into the night.

The state high court barred Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Court Judge Wen­dell Grif­fen from hear­ing cases in­volv­ing ex­e­cu­tions, cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment and the state’s lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col, then re­ferred him to the Ar­kan­sas Ju­di­cial Dis­ci­pline and Dis­abil­ity Com­mis­sion.

Judge Grif­fen lost the bat­tle, but he may have won the war: The Ar­kan­sas high court also granted stays of ex­e­cu­tion to the two con­victed mur­der­ers sched­uled to be put to death by lethal in­jec­tion Mon­day, Bruce Ward and Don Davis.

The rul­ings threw into limbo the state’s plan to ex­e­cute as

many as eight in­mates be­fore the April 30 ex­pi­ra­tion of its sup­ply of mi­da­zo­lam, a seda­tive used in the three-drug pro­to­col.

By the end of the busi­ness day, the stays were all that stopped Ar­kan­sas from car­ry­ing out the sen­tences as planned after At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge man­aged to va­cate last-minute or­ders is­sued by two courts block­ing the ex­e­cu­tions.

Ms. Rut­ledge won a ma­jor vic­tory by per­suad­ing the 8th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals to va­cate a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion is­sued Satur­day by a fed­eral judge against the whole ex­e­cu­tion slate, as well as a rul­ing by the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court up­end­ing Judge Grif­fen’s tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der re­leased Fri­day.

Ar­kan­sas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son an­nounced late Mon­day that he had filed an ap­peal with the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the fed­eral blocks on the ex­e­cu­tions. Jus­tice Sa­muel A. Alito Jr. is the jus­tice for the 8th Cir­cuit.

“To­day, the 8th Cir­cuit ruled the state could pro­ceed with the death penalty sen­tence and ex­pressed no con­cern over the ex­e­cu­tion sched­ule and the leg­isla­tively man­dated means to carry out the lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col,” Mr. Hutchin­son said in a state­ment.

“How­ever, the State Supreme Court went a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and ruled that the ex­e­cu­tion of Don Davis and Bruce Ward could not pro­ceed based upon the po­ten­tial of some fu­ture di­rec­tion of the U.S. Supreme Court that is un­known at the present time,” he said.

Judge Grif­fen came un­der fire over the week­end after he al­lowed him­self to be strapped to a cot in a sim­u­la­tion of a pris­oner await­ing ex­e­cu­tion in a Fri­day protest of the state’s rapid 11-day timetable, even though he ruled on the ex­e­cu­tions the same day.

“To pro­tect the in­tegrity of the ju­di­cial sys­tem this court has a duty to en­sure that all are given a fair and im­par­tial tri­bunal,” the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court said in its or­der. “We find it nec­es­sary to im­me­di­ately re­as­sign all cases in the Fifth Di­vi­sion that in­volve the death penalty or the state’s ex­e­cu­tion pro­to­col, whether civil or crim­i­nal.”

Judge Grif­fen had made no se­cret of his an­tipa­thy to­ward the death penalty, or his po­si­tions on a host of other hot-but­ton top­ics, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Trump, the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the North Carolina bath­room bill, voter ID re­quire­ments, “white Christian na­tion­al­ism” and “abu­sive and homi­ci­dal po­lice con­duct.”

“While the world med­i­tates about di­vine love, for­give­ness, jus­tice and hope, Ar­kan­sas of­fi­cials plan to com­mit a se­ries of homi­cides,” the judge said in a post last week on his blog, Jus­tice is a Verb!

The 64-year-old judge, who was elected in 2010 and re-elected last year with­out op­po­si­tion, did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest Mon­day for com­ment, but pre­vi­ously de­fended his de­ci­sion to par­tic­i­pate in Fri­day’s protests in Lit­tle Rock.

“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 have to place their per­sonal feel­ings aside,” Judge Grif­fen told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

There may be ad­di­tional sanc­tions in store for the judge. Ar­kan­sas state Sen. Ja­son Rapert said that the state leg­is­la­ture is dis­cussing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

“I can tell you that the Se­nate has been no­ti­fied that there are dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing a po­ten­tial fil­ing of im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles by the Ar­kan­sas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” Mr. Rapert said. “If that were to oc­cur, each of the 35 sen­a­tors in our Se­nate would ba­si­cally serve as jurors to hear those im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles.”

He said a two-thirds vote of the Se­nate is required to ac­cept the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment. Repub­li­cans con­trol both leg­isla­tive houses, but he said the party is one vote shy of a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate.

Mr. Rapert, a Repub­li­can, said the judge’s rep­u­ta­tion for ques­tion­able ju­di­cial con­duct pre­cedes him.

“He has a very long his­tory of these sort of things on vary­ing top­ics,” Mr. Rapert said. “It’s just one of those things where I think peo­ple have fi­nally had enough.”

A fa­vorite tar­get of Judge Grif­fen’s in re­cent months has been Mr. Trump.

“Don­ald Trump’s con­duct is typ­i­cal for a so­ciopath. We should not pre­tend other­wise,” Judge Grif­fen said in an Oct. 12 post. “The peo­ple who pro­fess moral out­rage about his con­duct now while ig­nor­ing his pen­chant for bul­ly­ing, misog­yny, racism, big­otry, and eco­nomic vi­o­lence are hyp­ocrites.”

The for­mer pas­tor at New Mil­len­nium Church in Lit­tle Rock, Judge Grif­fen still speaks from the pul­pit.

In a Feb. 5 ser­mon at First Pres­by­te­rian Church in Lit­tle Rock, which was posted on his blog, he said the “great­est threat to jus­tice in the United States, and now the world, is hereti­cal white Christian na­tion­al­ism.”

“Refugees seek­ing asy­lum in the U.S. and else­where in the world are suf­fer­ing be­cause of the im­pe­rial as­pi­ra­tions of white Christian na­tion­al­ism,” he said. “Women, per­sons who are LGBTQ, racial and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, per­sons with frail health, and peo­ple vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of mil­i­ta­rized law en­force­ment are threat­ened.”

While his pol­i­tics are cer­tainly left of cen­ter, the judge and for­mer pas­tor has weighed in on oc­ca­sion against Democrats, al­beit on the grounds of in­suf­fi­cient left­ism.

“Can we han­dle the truth that the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, like al­most ev­ery other na­tional politi­cian (in­clud­ing politi­cians across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum) ap­pears to be con­trolled by the pro-Is­raeli gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing, jour­nal­is­tic, and pol­icy lobby?” Judge Grif­fen asked in a Sept. 5 post on Face­book.

“This also ap­pears to be sadly true for many black re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers [across] the U.S.,” he said. “The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment is a wel­come and long-needed al­ter­na­tive.”

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