LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal appeals court said Wednesday that it won't revive an Arkansas judge's lawsuit challenging his disqualification from execution cases for participating in an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor's mansion.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to reconsider a three-judge panel's decision to dismiss Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's lawsuit against the Arkansas Supreme Court justices.
Griffen was photographed on a cot outside the governor's mansion last year wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding placards opposing executions. Earlier that day, Griffen blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug over claims that the state had misled the manufacturer. The state Supreme Court prohibited Griffen from handling any execution-related cases following the demonstration.
The court's one-page order did not elaborate on the ruling. The three-judge panel in July said Arkansas had "compelling interests" in protecting the public perception of an impartial judiciary.
Griffen has argued that his disqualification from hearing such cases violated his constitutional rights. His attorney, Mike Laux, said he planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said a 2002 ruling from the high court found that preserving the "appearance" of judicial impartiality isn't a compelling state interest.
"Here, there is zero evidence of bias in any of Judge Griffen's rulings and none was presented to the court," Laux said. "Thus, by elevating 'appearances' to this stature, the 8th Circuit respectfully got it wrong, and we have begun preparing papers to seek relief from the high court."
A disciplinary panel last week said it wouldn't dismiss an ethics complaint against Griffen over the demonstration. That case now heads to the state's Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, which could recommend Griffen's suspension or removal from the bench if it finds the judge violated rules of conduct.