Arkansas Supreme Court Bars Judge from Execution Case Over Protests

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order on Monday to bar Judge Wendell Griffen from hearing death-penalty cases in the state, following his participation in an anti-death penalty protest right after he ruled on Friday in the case. Griffen had issued a temporary restraining order on Arkansas from rapidly executing six prisoners in 11 days, before the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month. When he left the courthouse, he went to the rally, laid down on a cot, and tied himself to it as if he were condemned. By Saturday, Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge had asked the state's high court to reverse Griffen's ruling and to assign a new judge to the case. "To protect the integrity of the judicial system this court has a duty to ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal. We find it necessary to immediately reassign all cases in the Fifth Division that involve the death penalty or the state's execution protocol, whether civil or criminal," said Monday's ruling.

"Judges should maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives," the court order states. "They should aspire at all times to conduct that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and confidence." The executive director of the state's Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission, David Sachar, said in a press release on Monday that his agency is also investigating Griffen's ruling and subsequent protest, following the high court's order that he be disciplined.

—Olivia Messer