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Arkansas judge seeks to dismiss complaint over demonstration

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge asked a disciplinary panel Friday to dismiss a complaint over his participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration the same day he blocked executions, calling the investigation an effort to punish him for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said in a filing with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission that the demonstration didn’t violate any judicial rules and was constitutionally protected. Griffen lay down on a cot outside the governor’s mansion after he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection over complaints that the state misled a medical supply company.

Though Griffen strapped to a cot evoked images of a condemned inmate awaiting lethal injection, the judge has said he was portraying Jesus and participating in a Good Friday vigil with his church. Photographs showed the judge wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding signs opposing last month’s executions.

The state Supreme Court referred Griffen to the commission and prohibited the judge from hearing any cases related to the death penalty or the state’s execution protocol. Griffen said the vigil didn’t involve any comments or conduct related to the lethal injection drug case.

“Thus, your complaint — and its underlying referral by the Arkansas Supreme Court — is a naked attempt to intimidate and punish me for exercising my rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of religious expression, and right to peaceful assembly that are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” Griffen wrote.

Griffen last week filed a complaint with the commission against the Supreme Court that accuses justices of not giving him a chance to respond before he was disqualified from handling execution cases. He also filed a similar complaint against state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge with the Committee on Professional Conduct.

The Arkansas House earlier this week passed rules outlining impeachment procedures in the wake of calls from some lawmakers for Griffen’s removal from the bench.

McKesson Corp. had sought the temporary order, saying it was misled by Arkansas that the vecuronium bromide sold to the state would be used for inmate care. Another judge assigned the case after Griffen was disqualified also blocked the drug’s use. The state Supreme Court also lifted that order, allowing Arkansas execute four inmates over an eight-day period last month.

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