The Arkansas Supreme Court has racked up $136,774.62 in legal bills so far paying private lawyers in Judge Wendell Griffen’s lawsuit against them for removing him from all cases related to the death penalty.
Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote the Joint Budget Committee Tuesday noting the expense so far and asking for budget authority to spend an additional $500,000 — $250,000 for this fiscal year and the same amount for the next. Court legal fees are paid from a professional services appropriation for which only $25,000 was budgeted.
“We are hopeful that this matter will be resolved quickly,” Kemp wrote. “If that is the case, we will not use the additional funds requested.”
Griffen sued the court in October. It moved quickly to remove him April 17 and institute disciplinary proceedings against him because he participated April 14 in a Good Friday demonstration outside the governor’s mansion that included a protest of capital punishment. Griffen lay bound on a cot. He said he was depicting the crucifixion. Others saw it as symbolic of an inmate prepared for lethal injection. His demonstration came after he’d ruled earlier in the day in favor of a drug marketer that claimed the state had used dishonest means to obtain its drugs for use in executions. It wanted the drugs back. It was a property rights case, but Griffen’s ruling had the effect of delaying executions. After he was removed and a new judge appointed, that judge made the same conclusion on the same facts.
In addition to the lawsuit, Griffen and the court have dueling disciplinary complaints pending before the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. Expenses are being incurred there because the commission staff, as potential witnesses, can’t handle those cases. Outside counsel has been appointed.
Republicans in the legislature have talked frequently of impeaching Griffen.
Sen. Trent Garner has been one of Griffen’s most outspoken critics. He said on Twitter:
Unbelievable that the tax payers of Arkansas have to front the bill for Judge Griffen’s attention-seeking frivolous lawsuit. Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars wasted for his activism.
Griffen claims a 1st Amendment right to speech and says his personal beliefs don’t affect his decisions.
I have made a request for details on the legal billing from Chief Justice Kemp. I’ve been told that, rather than have a single representative for the court, individual justices have retained their own counsel and those bills in aggregate account for the budget request.
I expect Michael Laux, Griffen’s lawyer, to dispute Garner’s take on the issue. The judges could, for one thing, pay for their own lawyers. It’s also worth considering how the situation developed. Griffen’s legal team is prepared to show the Supreme Court acted on information outside the record in moving against Griffen. He says his due process rights were violated. The Supreme Court is saying the Judicial Discipline Commission has no jurisdiction to consider Griffen’s complaint against the court.
There will be a legislative eruption on this in due course. The legislature meets in fiscal session beginning Monday and a Joint Budget meeting is set that day. An extraordinary vote would be necessary to take up matters outside budget issues.
UPDATE: Here’s the list of lawyers defending the Supreme Court justices in the federal case cited by Kemp’s letter.olution.
Robert Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation in New York is lead attorney, representing the Arkansas Supreme Court as a whole. He is also listed as the sole attorney for Chief Justice Kemp, Justice Robin Wynne and Justice Shawn Womack.
Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson is also represented by David H. Thompson and two other attorneys from the firm of Cooper and Kirk in Washington, D.C., plus a lawyer from her husband’s Texarkana law firm.
Justice Jo Hart has additional representation from two Batesville lawyers, Alfred Thompson III and Kenneth Castleberry, and from Robert Henry of Little Rock.
Justice Karen Baker has added representation from Tim Dudley of Little Rock.
Justice Rhonda Wood also has representation from two Denver lawyers, Christopher Murray and David Meschke.
Griffen’s lawyer, Laux, said there’d be no fees if the court would reinstate Griffen.
They could have chosen to reinstate him, which would have cost $0. Judge Griffen is not asking for money damages. It is the court’s decision to fight this tooth and nail with expensive attorneys. They want this.