Almost two years after a special counsel was appointed to oversee an ethics complaint against Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, the special counsel is asking for a delay in the case scheduled to be heard May 21 or appointment of a new counsel.
Rachel Michel, appointed in July 2017, said she needs to either withdraw or get a continuance because of the press of her regular job in Mississippi and National Guard service. Another lawyer, Timothy Discenza, was appointed to help with the case but he withdrew May 10 because of health.
Michel said she couldn’t be prepared to try the case next week and asks the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to appoint a substitute or delay the case.
In other developments, Mike Laux, one of Griffen’s lawyers, said the Commission has refused their request to allow cameras in the scheduled hearing. Griffen is accused of creating an appearance of partiality by participating in a death penalty demonstration at the Governor’s Mansion on the afternoon of a day in which he decided a property case over the state’s plan to use an illicitly obtained drug in executions. Griffen ruled for drug companies seeking to recover the drugs, which are not intended for killing. That had the effect of postponing scheduled executions. The Arkansas Supreme Court removed Griffen from capital cases and referred the matter to the discipline commission.
Griffen has said the ethics charge should be dismissed because there’s no evidence he acted impartially (another judge made an identical ruling after he was removed from the case) and he shouldn’t be punished for the free exercise of speech and religion.
Through his lawyer, Griffen has objected to the “11th-hour” request for a delay. He has witnesses prepared to testify.
“I have been here since day one and I can state without hesitation that this whole thing has been a ridiculous farce solely intended to harass and vex Judge Griffen and put him in his place. JDDC Director Mr. Sachar basically admitted as much in his deposition. The perceived need for retribution has fueled this debacle from the start.”
Penalties for violations of judicial ethics rule range up to dismissal, but the severe punishment comes only in the most severe cases, such as criminal allegations. Adverse findings more often result in warnings, cautions and letters of reprimand.