LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge barred by the state Supreme Court from hearing death penalty cases says in a court filing that justices are retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, a Baptist minister, has sued the justices, saying they improperly took him off all execution-related cases. His lawyer asked a federal appeals court late Monday to reject the justices’ request to halt depositions and discovery. The justices have said their deliberations should be off-limits.
Griffen last year took part in a death penalty protest the same day he ruled the state Department of Correction could not administer one of its three execution drugs. A drug distributor, McKesson Medical-Surgical, had questioned whether it had been obtained through proper channels. At the time, Arkansas was poised to execute eight men in an 11-day period; it ultimately put four men to death over eight days.
Griffen said in papers filed at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis that the state Supreme Court barred him from death penalty cases even though no one asked for such a ruling.
“There was no urgency to the Supreme Court’s personnel decision because, by the time the Supreme Court issued its order, an Arkansas federal district court … had already stayed the executions,” Griffen’s lawyer wrote. Baker’s order was later overturned.
Last month, a federal judge said Griffen’s lawsuit could proceed against the justices individually and that each side could gather facts from the other side in a process known as discovery. The justices have told the 8th Circuit they don’t want to disclose their internal deliberations.
Lawyer Michael Laux wrote to the appeals court late Monday that had the justices simply removed Griffen from the McKesson case, there would have been no cause for Griffen to sue. However, he said, Griffen believes the justices acted improperly.