Ruling: Judge's Suit Against Arkansas Justices Can Proceed

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Apr. 13, 2018 11:28 am   2 min read

Wendell Griffen

LITTLE ROCK — Most of an Arkansas judge's lawsuit against members of the state Supreme Court challenging his disqualification from execution-related cases after his participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration can move forward, a federal court ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. dismissed the Arkansas Supreme Court as a whole from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's lawsuit over the court's order last year barring him from death penalty cases. Moody, however, said Griffen's lawsuit against the individual justices remains intact.

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.

Griffen, who says he was portraying Jesus and participating in a prayer vigil, said the justices and the court violated his constitutional rights. Moody dismissed the portion of Griffen's suit that claimed the court violated a 2015 state religious objections law, saying that measure doesn't include language that it intended such lawsuits to go to federal court.

"We are very happy with Judge Moody's ruling, which maintains Judge Griffen's case against the individual justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court," said Mike Laux, Griffen's attorney. "While we are disappointed by the ruling on the Arkansas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which renders it essentially a nullity, we will take that fight up at a later date."

Moody also lifted a temporary stay he had issued earlier this week blocking efforts to obtain documents and testimony in the case while he considered whether to dismiss the suit.

"I'm gratified that the federal court agreed that no lawsuit in federal court could be brought against the Arkansas Supreme Court, as we argued," Robert Peck, an attorney representing the court as a whole and three justices, said in an email. "I also believe that the lawsuit has no legal basis to proceed otherwise. The order does not address that argument but permits both parties to develop further facts before deciding that question."

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