Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen today denied another motion from defense lawyers for Josh Hastings that he step down from hearing Hastings’ trial on a manslaughter charge in the killing of a 15-year-old fleeing from him in a west Little Rock parking lot.

The defense had claimed an inquiry from the judge’s law clerk to the prosecutor about whether the defense had scheduled an expert witness demonstrated bias because the note didn’t also go the defense. The judge outlined orders in open court about the defense’s plan for expert testimony and he said the rules clearly allowed a judge to initiate ex parte communications on such matters. He also said the law clerk’s inquiry was harmless because it was promptly passed along to the defense. It asked if the state had received notice and if it had provided the defense with all it was supposed to provide. It didn’t constitute evidence of bias, he said.

The judge observed that defense remains in disagreement over the judge’s rulings on handling jury questioning and evidence related to Hastings’ “justification” in the shooting as a police patrol office who’d interrupted a car burglarly. But disagreement with rulings doesn’t constitute demonstration of bias on the judge’s part, he said.

 The trial begins next week.