WHERE IT STARTED: Griffen's demonstration. BRIAN CHILSON

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen
has won a victory on a motion to seek communications about his ethics case from a variety of public officials including the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Griffen faces ethics charges before the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for participating in a death penalty prayer protest on the same day he’d earlier issued a ruling on a property law case about how the state obtained drugs used in executions. Griffen said the drug distributor should get its drugs back because the state had acted improperly to get them. The Supreme Court stayed Griffen’s injunction, threw him off all death penalty cases and asked for the ethics investigation. A subsequent judge made an identical ruling on similar facts, a decision the Supreme Court also reversed.


Special Counsel Rachel Michel of Jackson, Miss., refused the request. Michel is the person who repeatedly referred to Griffen by his first name in a hearing over his unsuccessful effort to have the ethics charge dismissed. Michel is white, Griffen black.

Griffen argues his ability to make public comment on social issues is protected by the First Amendment and his feelings didn’t influence his judicial work in the drug case. His attorney have noted the Supreme Court ruling that says death penalty opponents cannot be excluded on account of their feelings from death penalty cases if they say they are willing to follow the law.


In a news release, Griffen’s attorney, Austin Porter Jr., praised the order.

“We have insisted from the beginning that Arkansas politicians schemed to charge Judge Griffen because they resented his personal peaceful and prayerful expression of religious opposition to capital punishment. Now we get to identify the schemers and when they schemed so we can show the public that this case is about vengeful politicians and their politics, not Judge Griffen and ethics. We have been waiting a long time for this information, and Judge Griffen’s enemies hoped we would never get it. Now the public will learn what they worked so hard to hide.”

The Supreme Court acted without a full hearing soon after Griffen’s demonstration, given rise to the belief that ex parte communications had been held between the court and other parties.