The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission released today a formal recitation of the charges it had earlier decided to bring against Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen. He's violated the code of judicial conduct, the charges allege, by criticizing appointment of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court (good call by Griffen, by the way) and talking critically about the war and discrimination against immigrants and homosexuals.
The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that judges enjoy First Amendment rights, but the pony express apparently hasn't delivered that ruling yet to the strict arbiters of behavior by certain judges in Arkansas.
To be clear: Griffen is not accused of speaking on any topic that has a bearing on cases before his court. To also be clear: this group has not brought charges against a judicial candidate who issued very clear statements of opinion on a case that WAS pending before the court to which he sought election. Griffen happens to be black and the former candidate skating under disciplinary radar happens to be white. We think the distinction is contextually relevant. The metaphorical necktie party among judicial arbiters was first rounded up on the occasion of Griffen's remarks on race at the University of Arkansas. He saw problems at his alma mater.
To the best of our knowledge, no judge has ever been disciplined for talking about how much he LIKES (versus dislikes) things at the University of Arkansas -- or for cheering the Hogs at a football game.
Seems silly? Not at all. The director of the commission has said it's improper for Griffen to publicly advocate tolerance toward gay people. An anti-gay person might feel he wouldn't get an even shake in Griffen's court, he contends. So then, wouldn't a Longhorn fan have reason to feel uncomfortable in the court of a rabid Hog fan?
They'll string Griffen up on these charges in June or July. Then the court appeals will begin.
UPDATE: Griffen has issued a lengthy response to the charges. He says some remarks have been misinterpreted by others, but generally says that his remarks do not constitute violations of the code of conduct or else or protected First Amendment speech. He notes -- important point that his comments "about matters of general public concern" did not involve "pending or impending litgation or otherwise relate to the exercise of judicial functions or activites."