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The Arkansas Supreme Court Has an Embarrassing Ethical Problem

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Arkansas Supreme Court has an ethical problem, and it started with an email to a trial judge.

Judge Wendell Griffen had ordered the state to stop an execution, and the state supreme court emailed him to respond to charges that he could not be impartial. The email was sent at 4:23 p.m. Saturday, and the response was due at 9 a.m. Monday.

When Griffen didn't respond in time, the Arkansas Supreme Court removed him from all capital cases. Then came the shot heard round the courthouse.

Email Error

Griffen is not the type to go down quietly. That's part of the reason he was in trouble with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

After issuing his stay order, Griffen participated in a public protest against capital punishment. The state attorney general saw it, and shot off an email to the state supreme court asking that Griffen be removed.

When Griffen found out what happened, he fired back. He complained to the Arkansas Judicial and Disability Commission, which issued formal ethics charges against six of the seven members of the state supreme court.

A complaint against the seventh judge was pending when the commission issued the charges.

Not Reasonable

"Judge Griffen could not have reasonably been expected to have effectuated a meaningful response to the state's petition to remove him," wrote J. Brent Standridge, special counsel for the commission.

Basically, the justices didn't give Griffen a chance. The commission found probable cause they acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in violation of the canons and rules of judicial conduct.

Unlike the case against Griffen, the ethics case will proceed to a hearing. The commission may admonish, reprimand, or remove the justices, but it is not likely anyone will be removed.

The West Virginia Supreme Court, however, is another story. No email problem there; more of a furniture problem.

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