The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission Monday denied Judge Wendell Griffen’s request to dismiss ethics charges against him. It also granted him only limited access to documents he’d sought related to the investigation.
The case will now proceed to trial, but the interim motion appears to be bad news. Most of the activities at issue are indisputable. Griffen did participate in a death penalty protest after deciding a case earlier in the day that — though it was a property rights dispute — had an impact on the use of a drug in Arkansas executions. He says he’s entitled to 1st Amendment protection and that his beliefs didn’t affect his judicial decisions.
In denying his motion to dismiss, the Commission says any lack of bias on his part is irrelevant. That is, his participation in the event could give rise to a feeling in the public that a judge was not impartial. Griffen’s attorneys argue that case law says this is not sufficient ground to gag a judge on social issues, but the Commission doesn’t seem to be buying that argument. All of its members participated in the decision and the panel that hears his case will be drawn from those same people.
Griffen made multiple requests for information, including communications to the Arkansas Supreme Court, attorney general, governor and legislators about instituting a complaint against him. The Commission’s order said this particular request was “premature” but could be reconsidered once an investigative panel has filed a formal statement of allegations.
Here’s the full order on Griffen’s motions for discovery of evidence and on dismissal of charges against him.