LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas state senator called Monday for the impeachment of a Pulaski County circuit judge who took part in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he issued an order in a case involving the death penalty.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said he was calling on the House to bring an article of impeachment against Judge Wendell Griffen. If the House were to do so, the Senate would hold a trial to determine whether to impeach Griffen.
On Good Friday, Griffen issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from using one of its execution drugs to put any inmates to death, an order that the state Supreme Court later vacated. The maker of the drug had accused the state of using deception to obtain the drug for executions.
The state ultimately executed three men last month.
On the same day he issued his order, Griffen joined in a protest in front of the Governor’s Mansion. He strapped himself to a cot in simulation of an inmate on an execution gurney.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge complained to the state Supreme Court, which later removed Griffen from the case. Griffen has complained that he was never given a chance to respond and has asked for an investigation into what he says was a denial of his due-process rights.
In a news release Monday, Garner said, “Making a public statement about a case in which (Griffen) was still involved reeks of bias. Setting aside the merits of the case itself, Griffen attacked the integrity of our legal system by showing some parties can’t get a fair trial in his court.”
Garner said Griffen has a long history of making statements that show bias, including comments critical of police officers, the leaders of the Little Rock School District and U.S. foreign policy.
“He should never again be allowed to hold office of any sort in Arkansas. We as the General Assembly can remove the stain that Griffen has left on our judicial integrity,” Garner said.
Garner said he had not secured any commitments from House members to raise the issue.
Griffen did not immediately return a call Monday afternoon seeking comment.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, whose Senate district is in Griffen’s judicial district, said Monday she would not support moving to impeach someone who has not been charged with or found guilty of any wrongdoing, simply because some legislators dislike something he did.
Elliott also noted that the Arkansas Supreme Court has a panel to investigate complaints against judges and has the ability to remove a judge for misconduct.
“We used to teach our kids there are three distinct, separate branches of government,” said Elliott, a former schoolteacher. “I think we really need to get back to thinking about that — letting, in this case, the judiciary deal with the issue if there is something with which to be dealt.”
Garner said Monday, “We’ve already (gone through) that song and dance with Judge Griffen before. In 2008 he made comments about President Bush and the Iraq War. It was taken to the (Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission) and at that time, they did not take action against him.”
The commission ultimately dropped a 2008 case against Griffen, then a state Court of Appeals judge, over his comments on the Iraq War and other topics, but in 2002, it did admonish him for commenting on racial issues at the University of Arkansas. An admonishment is the mildest sanction the commission can give.
Garner also said he believes the Legislature has an obligation to act in response to “gross misconduct.”