Wendell Griffen

The Arkansas Supreme Court has temporarily stayed proceedings in a lawsuit appealing the state’s rejection of a medical marijuana dispensary application by Carpenter Farms.

This is the case that has turned into an attack by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

After he rejected her effort to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming sovereign immunity, she asked for a series of “emergency” orders, including a request that Griffen be removed from all cases involving her office because she claimed Griffen was rude to her staff. He’s responded that he treated the litigants fairly, but acknowledged being hard on unprepared lawyers. He played a recording of the controversial hearing for the public.

In a brief order today, the court granted a more recent request by the state for a temporary stay in circuit court proceedings, because of a scheduled conference next week and Griffen’s order for the state to begin producing requested documents. It also expedited its schedule for considering the complaint.  The order was silent on the request to remove Griffen from all state civil cases. Griffen and others have said the proper recourse for complaints of judicial misconduct is a complaint with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

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Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Associate Justice Jo Hart would have denied the state’s requests for a stay.

Earlier this week, R. Victor Harper of Star City, attorney for Carpenter Farms, acknowledged that the court had the discretionary power to halt proceedings for an intermediate consideration of the question of sovereign immunity. But he said that discovery of evidence still should be allowed to proceed. There is no emergency or harm to the state in producing documents, which he said should be available under the Freedom of Information Act.

Harper argues Carpenter didn’t get due process when his application was rejected for errors and not fully graded as was the case with other applications.

Harper also defended Griffen against the state’s “extraordinary” attack. The accusation of bias isn’t borne out by the record, he said. Interrupting an attorney while trying to pin them down is common, he wrote, not abuse. That’s particularly so, he said, when an attorney engages in “semantic wordplay so confusing that even they themselves are unable to keep it straight.” He said the judge had properly pressed the state for a showing it had a good faith basis to announce its intention to appeal.  He observed, “The Office of Attorney General very publicly attacked a member of this co-equal branch of government as unfit for office for the crime of ruling against the crown.”

He said trial courts have broad authority to continue jurisdictional discovery. All the documents being sought, he said, bear on the sovereign immunity question, particularly whether the state had acted unlawfully in handling the Carpenter application. Illegal action by the state can provide an exception to a sovereign immunity defense.

The state continued in its request for a stay in all proceedings, including discovery, to argue for Griffen’s removal. It included quotes Griffen has made critical of state officials and others in settings unrelated to this case, such as before the state Board of Education on the Little Rock school issue.

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