Two days after saying Arkansas Supreme Court justices do not have to testify in an ethics complaint against a judge photographed at an anti-death penalty demonstration more than two years ago, a statewide commission that monitors judicial conduct canceled a hearing scheduled June 13.
It is the fourth postponement in proceedings by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission in a complaint against Judge Wendell Griffen.
Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended a Good Friday 2017 prayer vigil on the eve of planned executions in his role as pastor. Earlier in the day Judge Griffen issued a temporary order barring the use of a lethal injection drug alleged to have been obtained illegally.
The state Supreme Court responded, without a hearing, by removing the judge not only from the property dispute but barring him from any future death penalty cases.
Griffen, who has served in leadership roles with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, says he was exercising his constitutional right to religious freedom and that his personal views on capital punishment had no bearing on his ruling in the dispute over how the drug was acquired.
The commission canceled the most recent hearing after its own special counsel recused herself due to competing interests.
Rachel Michel, a Mississippi attorney appointed to avoid conflicts of interest by commission prosecutors, said the panel knows she is forbidden from working on the case during office hours and serves weekends in the National Guard but scheduled the hearing anyway, without her knowledge or consent.
Michel said in her notice of recusal she nevertheless requested personal leave time from her employer to attend the hearing, scheduled on short notice, but the request was denied. She said the rescheduled hearing and employer’s refusal to grant leave time “creates an unresolvable conflict of interest.”
Griffen’s attorney, Mike Laux, said the debacle “further exposes the retaliatory politics driving the prosecution of this non-existent ethics violation.”
In a June 7 order saying that Griffen could not compel Supreme Court justices to testify because they are “protected by judicial privilege,” the judicial commission also gave its rationale for extending the case despite a rule requiring dismissal of complaints that are not decided within 18 months.
“The haphazard, thoughtless and arbitrary nature of the JDDC’s handling of the complaint against Judge Griffen is clear evidence of political ‘fire-ready-aim’ retribution at work here,” Laux said.
“Combined with the JDDC’s indefensible rulings which defy the letter of its own rules, the unfortunate developments of the past week all but prove that the JDDC case against Judge Griffen is totally baseless,” Laux said. “It should therefore probably come as no surprise that when push comes to shove no one wants to advance this case.”