LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - An Arkansas judge is suing the state's highest court after its seven members barred him from hearing any execution-related cases.
It all started on Good Friday when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen strapped himself to a cot outside the governor's mansion, appearing to mimic an inmate strapped to a gurney. Earlier that day, he blocked the use of a lethal injection drug in the state's upcoming executions.
The Baptist pastor maintains his appearance was part of a prayer vigil his church had planned a week before his ruling. However, he also wore an anti-death penalty pin while protesters marched around him.
"We acknowledged that there would be other people present protesting the death penalty," Griffen said. "We wanted to be present in solidarity with Jesus."
But the Arkansas Supreme Court took it at face value, barring him for life from cases involving capital punishment.
On Thursday, Judge Griffen with the cot in tow announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against the state supreme court.
"A judge has the right under the First Amendment to live out his or her faith without the government trying to tell them how to do it," he said.
Griffen's lawsuit goes further, alleging conspiracy.
"It is more than incidental that the only judge ever stripped of the power to hear any category of cases in the history of this state is a black judge," he said. "It is more than accidental that the only people who are doing it is an all-white Arkansas Supreme Court. We're going to lynch a black judge of all of the power to hear capital cases when a disproportional number of people on death row are people of color."
"This has absolutely nothing to do with race," said Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado. "What it has to do with is Judge Griffen's long history of showing extreme bias by his own actions and statements."
Sen. Garner is calling for Griffen's impeachment, something the General Assembly has the power to do.
"I have an obligation and duty to not allow radical judges who have shown extreme bias to sit on the court," Garner said.
Judge Griffen calls it a "mentality of the lynch mob," the reason for the rope taking his place on the cot Thursday.
"How many white judges have been threatened with impeachment? I rest my case," Griffen said.
We asked Sen. Garner if his colleagues are also considering impeachment procedures for Judge Joe Boeckmann, who admitted to trading sexual favors from defendants for dismissing their cases.
Garner said Boeckmann is off the bench so the criminal justice system already took care of it.
"The thing with Judge Griffen is he's just been doing this for years," Garner said. "And as far as I can see, there's no other way for him to get off the bench."
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