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Alabama Supreme Court Reviews Judge's Facebook Post

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 08, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Despite his controversial Facebook comments, Judge Greg Griffin was not about to recuse himself from a racially charged murder case.

The murder defendant, a white police officer, had shot and killed a black man after stopping him on the street. Griffin, as fate would have it, had been stopped by police in the same city as he walked down the street.

"(I)t was aggravating to be detained when the only thing I was guilty of was being a black man walking down the street in his neighborhood with a stick in his hand who just happened to be a Montgomery County Circuit Judge in Montgomery, Alabama," Griffin posted on Facebook. "Lord Have Mercy!!!!"

That post is at the center of a case that is now before the Alabama Supreme Court, which has postponed the trial to consider the issue: must a judge recuse himself for commenting about a personal experience with racial profiling?

All the Circumstances

The Alabama Supreme Court will consider all the circumstances, of course, including the Facebook comments and the underlying charges against police officer Aaron Smith.

The officer spotted Gregory Gunn on February 25, 2016 as Gunn was walking home in a high crime area "besieged with burglaries," the Washington Post reported. Smith said Gunn tried to escape during a pat-down, and a fight ensued.

Smith said he hit Gunn with his baton, and used a Taser to subdue him. But when Gunn ran to a neighbor's porch, grabbed a metal pole and swung it at him, the officer shot five times and killed him.

Disqualified for Cause?

In most jurisdictions, a judge may only be disqualified for cause. The challenger must show that a reasonable person would question the judge's ability to be impartial.

In a heated exchange on the defendant's motion to disqualify the judge, Griffin said his Facebook story had nothing to do with the case. He also accused the defense attorney of using his race against him.

"You brought race in here," Griffin said. "I'm a black judge. I can take this black robe off, but I can't take off this black skin. I live in west Montgomery. I live in the hood. Should I recuse myself from every criminal case that has happened on the west side?"

The judge noted that the officer who stopped him was black. At the time, the Gunn shooting brought Montgomery into the national spotlight of racially charged police shootings.

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