A disciplinary panel has declined to dismiss charges against an Arkansas judge and Baptist pastor accused of violating judicial ethics by participating in a demonstration against capital punishment in 2017.
The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission on Monday said an ethics complaint filed in June against Judge Wendell Griffen can move forward. The complaint claims Griffen violated the Judicial Code of Conduct by attending a Good Friday death penalty protest with members of his church.
Earlier in the day Griffen, who also serves as pastor of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated New Millennium Church in Little Rock, had signed a court order that temporarily halted executions scheduled the week following Easter.
Griffen, raised in the black church tradition of prophetic preaching about matters of social justice, claims his religious views on capital punishment have nothing to do with his ability to rule impartially on legal matters. The disciplinary panel ruled, however, that judges must avoid the “appearance” of impropriety and “actual bias is not necessary.”
Griffen, who is suing the Arkansas State Supreme Court justices for disqualifying him from hearing future death-penalty cases, also claims he is being held to a higher standard than white judges cleared of similar conduct in the past.
During last Friday’s hearing, according to local media, the special prosecutor brought in from Mississippi to investigate Griffen repeatedly referred to him as “Judge Wendell” instead of “Judge Griffen.” Griffen later told reporters it reflected “cultural incompetence” and showed a lack of respect for African-Americans reminiscent of his early life.
Griffen said he would not tolerate a similar lack of courtesy in his courtroom, and the commissioners should have corrected the prosecutor.
The ethics complaint now goes to the full commission. The disciplinary panel issued a separate ruling Aug. 20 in Griffen’s favor, ordering the special counsel to turn over communications and document files related to the complaint.