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story.lead_photo.caption Opponents of the death penalty pray beside Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen during a demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

At least two lawmakers are calling for the removal of a Pulaski County judge after he publicly protested against the death penalty for a second time.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen lay motionless Tuesday evening after strapping himself to a cot outside the Governor's Mansion during a vigil marking the four executions that the state carried out over a two-week period last year. He took part in a similar demonstration last year.

In a statement, state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, called Tuesday's protest a "pathetic and depressing display."

"He has disgraced the office that he holds for years and now is using a desperate, attention seeking move to further bring shame on himself," Garner wrote.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, agreed in a Wednesday morning post on Twitter.

"It is time for #ARLeg to move to impeach Judge Wendell Griffen. Our justice system must be fair and impartial, and is no place for activism," Ballinger said.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said he hasn't talked with any members of the Legislature about initiating impeachment proceedings against Griffen. Articles of impeachment would need to be co-sponsored by at least 34 House members for the impeachment process to begin in that chamber.

Griffen, who is also a Baptist minister, was barred by the Arkansas Supreme Court last year from hearing capital-punishment cases after he rallied against the death penalty on Good Friday.

Earlier that Friday -- on April 14, 2017 -- Griffen had issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the state from using the drug vercuronium bromide in executions. The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the drug's manufacturer, which said the state had illegally obtained the drug.

Griffen has sued the state's Supreme Court justices, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights by banning him from hearing death-penalty cases. A federal judge dismissed the high court itself from the lawsuit but allowed proceedings against its seven justices to continue.

In a Wednesday statement, Griffen said he remains as committed to the law and his First Amendment right to express his "moral and religious" opposition to the death penalty as he was a year ago.

He added in his Wednesday statement that his resolve and hope are "stronger than ever."

Griffen's attorney, Michael Laux, argued that the judge "has the constitutional right to do this, and we will prove it, if need be."

"Whether praying or protesting -- it doesn't matter. Both are protected under the First Amendment," Laux said.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 04/19/2018

Print Headline: Judge's display raises impeachment cry

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