Sen. Trent Garner has used the Senate information office to distribute a statement in which he calls on the state House to issue articles of impeachment of Judge Wendell Griffen for his trial by the Senate.
Griffen infuriated Garner and others by joining an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor’s Mansion after he’d issued an order against the state in a lawsuit alleging it had obtained execution drugs from a supplier by dishonest means. He says Griffen should be removed for “gross misconduct.”
Garner cited other statements made by Griffen that Garner finds objectionable — about police, the Little Rock School District, Israel and others. It’s a slippery slope to remove people from public office over speech you don’t like, but Garner is a known foe of the 1st Amendment. He tried to make mass picketing illegal during the recent legislative session.
Griffen was removed from the drug case without a hearing by the Arkansas Supreme Court after the attorney general objected. He has since, in Garner’s words, “doubled down” by saying the attorney general and Supreme Court should be investigated for what Griffen believes to be ethical flaws in handling of his case. Griffen said he has a right to speak on issues and said his beliefs don’t influence his rulemaking, anymore than any other judges’ beliefs influence theirs. A judge appointed to the case after Griffen was removed ruled exactly as Griffen had — that the drug distributor had made a case that its drug shouldn’t be used for an execution because it had been obtained in bad faith through misrepresentations. The Supreme Court also overrode that order to allow executions to proceed with the controversial sedative midazolam.
Garner’s statement expressed no interest in pursuing the state’s dishonesty in seeking execution drugs.
Special sessions are typically limited to items on the governor’s call, but the legislature, by extraordinary votes, can expand its agenda. The governor can also call for removal of officials including judges by asking for a two-thirds vote of both houses.
Garner himself seems to have prejudged a case on which he could be a juror. Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang had earlier issued a careful statement on the matter:
“I ask that you heavily weigh any public comments that you make regarding this process and its outcome. Impeachment is a serious matter. Our role in the process requires an enhanced level of restraint. In a sense, each [of] us will become 35 independent jurors. We will be under oath and we will have a duty to act objectively when making our determinations… Pre-emptive proclamations of opinion regarding the possible concurrence by members of the Senate will undoubtedly allow the public to call into the question the integrity of the trial and our ability to remain impartial as jurors.”
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam declined to comment today on the development.