LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court on Monday dismissed an Arkansas judge's lawsuit challenging his disqualification from execution-related cases over his participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration where he laid on a cot outside the governor's mansion.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a lower ruling that allowed Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's lawsuit to proceed against the state Supreme Court's seven justices for prohibiting him from hearing death penalty cases. Justices disqualified Griffen last year after the judge was photographed lying down on a cot outside the governor's mansion during an anti-death penalty demonstration. The judge, who is also a Baptist pastor, wore an anti-death penalty button and was surrounded by people holding signs opposing executions.
That same day, Griffen blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug over claims that the state misled a medical supply company.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals panel rejected Griffen's argument the disqualification violated his constitutional rights. Griffen has said he was portraying Jesus and participating in a prayer vigil when laid on the cot. He re-enacted the demonstration in April to mark the one-year anniversary of Arkansas putting four inmates to death over an eight-day period.
"Arkansas has compelling interests in the impartiality of the judiciary and in public perception of an impartial judiciary," the ruling said. The court also said Griffen doesn't have a right to hear specific categories of cases as a judge.
Griffen's attorney said he was disappointed in the ruling and planned to petition the full 8th Circuit appeals court to review the case.
"We are as resolute as we have ever been, and we fully intend to restore Judge Griffen's constitutional rights," Mike Laux said.
A federal judge in April dismissed the state Supreme Court as a whole from Griffen's suit, but said the case against the individual justices remained intact. Attorneys for the justices said they were pleased with the appeals court's ruling.
A judicial disciplinary panel charged Griffen last month with ethics violations for the demonstration, a move that could result in the judge's suspension or removal from office. Griffen has asked the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to dismiss its case against him.