Saying that the integrity of the court's judicial system needs to be protected, the Arkansas Supreme Court has removed a judge who participated in a recent death-penalty protest from hearing capital punishment cases.
The state's high court issued an assignment order on Monday that said it was necessary to reassign Judge Wendell Griffen's cases. Aside from that, Griffen would also be referred to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he has indeed violated judicial conduct rules.
After a medical supplier filed a complaint on Friday, Griffen issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from executing condemned inmates earlier scheduled to be put to death beginning Monday. The judge also participated on the same day in a death-penalty protest outside the Arkansas governor's mansion where he lay on a cot to imitate a condemned prisoner.
In removing Griffen, the Supreme Court said that it has a duty to ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal. All cases that involve the death penalty or the state's execution protocol whether civil or criminal, will be immediately reassigned to the Fifth Division.
This also happened while the Arkansas Supreme Court halted two executions mere hours before they were scheduled to be carried out on Monday. The state is still fighting it out in various courts to go on with its original plan of a record eight executions over 11 days this month.
In a split decision, the state's highest court stopped the executions of convicted murderers Don Davis and Bruce Ward, who have both spent more than 20 years on death row. The inmates' lawyers raised questions about their mental competency. The Attorney General is considering options on how to proceed with the cases.
Arkansas had earlier asked a U.S. appeals court on Monday to allow the planned eight executions before the state's lethal-injection drugs expire at the end of April. Arkansas argued that a lower court abused its discretion when it prevented the state from carrying out its plan to execute inmates this month.