Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen Monday petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to restore his ability to hear cases involving the death penalty.


The Supreme Court removed him from such cases in April 2017 after he participated in a death penalty demonstration the same day he decided a property case by a drug distributor seeking to get back from the state of Arkansas drugs it intended to use for execution, a use not permitted by the drug company.

The court also referred Griffen to a disciplinary panel for an ethics violation. That case was dropped recently for failure to act within the 18 months set out in rules for ethics actions against judges.


So now Griffen asks to be restored to civil and criminal cases involving the death penalty. He argues that Amendment 80 gives circuit court over such cases (it also gives the Supreme Court broad superintending authority over all courts).

Griffen argues:

  • That the “lifetime ban” the court s now unsustainable absent a finding of ethics violation;
  • The punishment was unfair because it was punishment for a lawful religious protest. His attorney, Michael Laux, contrasts it with “wrist slaps” given white judges for the likes of driving drunk through sobriety checkpoints and “hurling profanities” at officers.
  • It violates the Hunt decree, which established majority black voter subdistricts to enhance the chances of election of black judges. Griffen doesn’t have the same power as other judges. This harms citizens in his district whose judge doesn’t have full powers.

Laux says 17 cases have gone to other judges since the Supreme Court ban. He says he hopes for a Supreme Court review of the disciplinary decision in 45 to 60 days.

Griffen’s formal filing said in part:

Of special note, Judge William Pearson, who is white, pleaded guilty on April
17 , 2017 to charges of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving after he
deliberately and recklessly drove through a police sobriety checkpoint, which
forced law enforcement officers to undertake a high-speed car chase to
apprehend and arrest him. Judge Pearson was charged with and found guilty
of that criminal conduct, and was relieved of the power to preside over any
driving- while- intoxicated cases for eight months, until December 31, 2017 .
Meanwhile, Petitioner, an African-American judge whose charges of judicial
misconduct have been dismissed, with prejudice, for lack of prosecution, has
been barred from presiding over any cases involving the death penalty or
method of execution in Arkansas for more than two years – three times longer
than Judge Pearson – and remains permanently barred despite not having been
found guilty of any illegal or otherwise disqualifying conduct.