Judging the judge | Arkansas Blog

Friday, September 15, 2006

Judging the judge

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2006 at 2:11 PM

A spokesman for Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen says a closed hearing today of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission resulted in dismissal of one allegation of improper conduct by Griffen. That pertained to his public criticism of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

But the group kept alive complaints over the judge's public remarks in support of a minimum wage increase in Arkansas (later approved by the legislature) and critical of the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts. It will schedule further hearings, presumably in secret as today's was, despite Griffen's request that it be open to the public.

Say again: We believe the First Amendment absolutely protects the judge's right  to speak on these topics, none of which pertained matters pending in his court. While the disciplinary group investigates Griffen repeatedly, it has overlooked remarks by at least one sitting judge who commented on a case pending before the very court for which he was seeking election.

Some think the relentless targeting of Griffen smacks of a vendetta. It is also true that most in the justice system believe judges should be very careful about public remarks. The less said about matters of controversy the better. That has not been Judge Griffen's way.

Griffen submitted a written statement to the commission but said he would not testify further. The commission then met in private without him and informed later of the decision. Under the circumstances, it's impossible to know why some complaints were kept open or why, if they were kept open, the commission didn't move immediately to a finding that the judicial conduct code had been violated by Griffen's public speech.

Regarding his remarks on which the pending complaints rest, Griffen said: "If that is not First Amendment protected kind of stuff, what is? The jduicial commission is not Orval Faubus. It cannot pretend the constitution doesn't exist."


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