LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Five Arkansas Supreme Court justices on Wednesday challenged efforts to sanction them over the court’s decision to prohibit a judge who participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration from hearing any execution-related cases.
The justices filed a lawsuit with their court challenging the charges related to the decision to disqualify Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen from handling any death penalty cases. Justices disqualified Griffen last year, days after he was photographed on a cot outside the governor’s mansion last year wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding signs opposing executions.
Earlier the day of the demonstration, Griffen blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug over claims the company had been misled by the state.
A three-member of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has charged all seven of the court’s justices over the move. The panel said the court never gave Griffen notice or an opportunity to be heard over his removal from death penalty cases. The charges are set to go before the full nine-member commission, which could recommend suspending or removing the justices if they’re found to have violated judicial rules of conduct.
“The commission has no jurisdiction over decisions of a judge rendering a decision on issues of law,” the lawsuit said.
David Sachar, the commission’s executive director, said he had not seen the filing and the commission would respond accordingly.
An attorney for the justices said all seven members of the court would recuse from hearing the lawsuit. Gov. Asa Hutchinson will have to name special justices to hear the case.
The lawsuit was filed by Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Jo Hart, Shawn Womack, Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood. Justices Courtney Goodson and Robin Wynne did not join the lawsuit.
The ethics complaint against the justices was filed by Griffen, who was charged earlier this year by the disciplinary panel over the demonstration. Griffen had sued the justices over his disqualification, claiming it violated his constitutional rights, but a federal appeals court dismissed the case. The justices’ lawsuit on Wednesday cited that dismissal in seeking an end to the ethics case against them.
By ANDREW DeMILLO
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