Arkansas Supreme Court Declines to Bar Pastor/Judge From Handling Cases After He Demonstrated Against the Death Penalty

Judge Wendell Griffen dons his clerical robe. He never uses his gavel because no one ever doubts who is the judge in his court room. (File photo by Brandon Markin)

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday refused to bar a Little Rock judge from handling cases involving the office of the state attorney general who in 2017 got him removed from execution cases after he demonstrated against the death penalty in his extrajudicial role as a Baptist pastor.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday refused to bar a Little Rock judge from handling cases involving the office of the state attorney general who in 2017 got him removed from execution cases after he demonstrated against the death penalty in his extrajudicial role as a Baptist pastor.

Justices rejected a request by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to bar Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen from hearing all cases in which her office participates by a 4-3 vote without comment.

Two years ago Rutledge initiated the complaint that got Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, barred from cases involving the death penalty or the state’s lethal injection protocol.

After ruling against the state in a property dispute alleging that prison officials illicitly obtained a drug to use in a series of planned executions, Griffen joined fellow church members in an anti-death penalty prayer vigil outside the governor’s mansion on Good Friday in 2017.

Though dressed in street clothes and not wearing anything to identify himself as a judge, journalists covering the rally recognized Griffen and published photos of him lying motionless on a cot. Griffen explained he was posing as a dead man “in solidarity with Jesus, the leader of our religion, who was put to death by crucifixion by the Roman Empire.”

Griffen insisted that being in public service does not require him to surrender his right to exercise his faith and that his religious views on the death penalty are irrelevant to his ability to rule impartially on matters of law. The Supreme Court of Arkansas nevertheless issued an order barring the judge from presiding over any case involving the death penalty, capital punishment or the state’s method of execution.

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Source: Baptist News Global