The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has dismissed an ethics charge pending against Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen since April 2017 for its inability to prosecute the case in time thanks to the recent loss of the special counsel handling it. UPDATE: Includes his comment on the “travesty” and his desire to be able to again hear cases concerning the death penalty.
Griffen sent this text message today:
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Friends, I am delighted to share the following email message that my legal team received this evening from Legal Counsel for the Judicial and Disability Commission!
Counsel: The Commission met this afternoon by teleconference to address Special Counsel’s Notice of Recusal. The Commission made the following findings:
(1) The Commission, viewing, Special Counsel’s “Notice” as a “Motion” denied Special Counsel’s Motion to Recuse.
(2) The Commission dismissed the case against Judge Griffen due to Special Counsel’s failure to prosecute, and failure to bring it to completion within the requirements of Rule 15.
(3) The Commission directed the Executive Director and Staff to review the JDDC Rules for possible amendments to ensure that any future cases do not involve procedural issues that arose in this case.
The motion to quash by Arkansas Supreme Court Clerk, Stacey Pectol, is moot.
A more detailed Order will be forthcoming.
Thank you, one and all, for the prayers, encouragement, and other support you’ve given since this saga began on April 1, 2017. Thank you to my super legal team. Thank you for the members of our Court staff.
Thank you, everyone! PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE WORD THAT THE CASE AGAINST ME HAS BEEN DISMISSED!
Little Rock, AR
We reported Monday on another delay of a hearing on Griffen’s case that had been scheduled to start Thursday. A special counsel from Mississippi was refused permission to take time off from her job to handle the case. At that time, Griffen and the Commission were already in dispute on whether the case had pended beyond the 18-month time limit for resolving judicial complaints. The Commission contended the time still had about 10 days to run, but the loss of the counsel made even that impossible to meet.
The facts have been often stated. Griffen participated in a death penalty demonstration on Good Friday 2017 outside the Governor’s Mansion. This followed by several hours his ruling in a property law case in favor of a drug distributor seeking to stop its products from being used in an execution. Griffen ruled for the company, delaying executions and infuriating politicians and members of the Arkansas Supreme Court. The court stripped Griffen of the ability to hear capital cases and made an ethics complaint. Legislators called for his impeachment, though a new judge decided the case the same way on a rehearing. Griffen has contended he was protected by religion and speech rights and that his personal beliefs hadn’t influenced his handling of the case. An investigative panel of the Discipline Commission found probable cause that he’d violated ethics rules meant to encourage judges to avoid appearance of partiality. A finding of a violation, had it happened, wouldn’t have likely resulted in his removal from the bench, though that is the upper end of available punishments.
The question today is whether legislators will let this rest.
UPDATE: Judge Griffen wrote me this afternoon with his response to the news:
Thanks for covering the dismissal of the ethics charges against me, and the more than two year old travesty of justice and waste of time, money, and other resources that must be laid at the feet of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Now that the charges have been dismissed, I am going to say for attribution what I would have said during the hearing.
There is nothing unethical about following the law. That is what I was elected to do. That is what I swore an oath to do. And that is what I did on April 14, 2017 when I granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the disposal (by whatever means) of vercuronium bromide that belonged to McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc..
I did not stay any execution. I restrained the McKesson defendants from using the vercuronium bromide until I could have a full hearing on April 18, 2017. Judge Alice Gray did the same thing for the same reason: the law compelled that result. As JDDC Director David Sachar testified in his deposition, I was obliged to issue the TRO whether executions were scheduled or not.
The Arkansas Supreme Court now should restore the power to hear and decide cases involving the death penalty and method of execution that it wrongly stripped from me on April 17, 2017. Dismissal of the case under JDDC Rule 15 means that there is no allegation of wrongdoing against me that can even remotely justify denying me the powers I exercised before the Supreme Court acted.
This case was NEVER about ethics. It was about irate politicians and Supreme Court Justices who dishonored the compelling interest of judicial independence in order to appease them. Then the Justices lacked the courage and integrity to even show up in a courtroom.
The ethics case against me is over. Now, I demand that the Supreme Court of Arkansas restore my power to hear and decide cases involving the death penalty and method of execution. The voters who elected me have not impeached me. The JDDC has dismissed the baseless charges that the Supreme Court instigated at the behest of hateful politicians. I demand that the Supreme Court restore what it took, wrongly, and that the restoration be as swift and public as was the wrongful taking that occurred without due process, and is now revealed to have been so baseless that even the Justices are afraid to talk about it under oath (as if they have something to hide).
By the way, I encourage your readers to read Rules 501 and 508 of the Arkansas Rules of Evidence (https://www.arcourts.gov/print/198910). There is no such thing as a “deliberative process” or “judicial privilege.” No such privileges have ever existed in Arkansas. It is telling that the Arkansas Supreme Court claims privileges to avoid testifying which the very rules they set up do not recognize, and that they claim the privileges in a case they started.
You are welcome to share this statement with your readers. I’m copying my legal team on this message.