by Max Brantley
A three-member panel of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is meeting at 3:30 p.m. today.
Executive Director David Stewart says the panel will meet on Appeals Court Judge Wendell Griffen's motion for a summary judgment in the complaint brought against him for violating ethical rules by making speeches and writing opinion pieces, including for the Arkansas Times, on such issues as the war, civil rights and Hurricane Katrina relief. Griffen has contended from the beginning that U.S. Supreme Court precedent -- followed in a recent case upheld in Texas -- gives him the same First Amendment right as anyone else. Furthermore, he's never spoken on matters or people in his court.
I hope the panel is going to put an end to this legal nightmare -- holdover of a vendetta mounted by the previous director of the Commission, James Badami -- and dismiss the charges.
And then, I'll ask the judge to write an op-ed about it all.
UPDATE: The three-member panel made quick work of recommending that the charges against Griffen be dismissed. Members: Chris Williams, John Everett and Bill Fly. Griffen was on hand, notified shortly beforehand by news media of the pending event.
Said the panel's letter, written by John Everett, in part: "We believe that the findings in the cases cited [by Griffen] lead to the inescapable conclusion that the speech at issue in this proceeding is protected." Glory be.
The panel's recommendation must be ratified by the nine-member full Commission at a later date, but historically that follows routinely on recommendation of hearing panels.
This isn’t the end of the story. Said Griffen: “I intend to continue my lawsuit and ask that the canons be found constitutionally vague.” He also pointed out that state judges can still be prosecuted on the same charges he faced. Griffen made his comments after David Stewart, speaking with the media, declined to speculate on what impact the dismissal of Griffen’s case would have were similar charges to be filed against a state judge in the future.
-- John C. Williams contributed to this item.
ON THE JUMP: A portion of an e-mail from Judge Griffen.
FROM AN E-MAIL FROM WENDELL GRIFFEN:
For the record, I thank God and am pleased that the panel has finally decided to follow the 2002 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White. If the Commission decides to approve the panel recommendation, the charges that the Commission authorized to be filed will be finally dismissed almost two years after I spoke about Hurricane Katrina and other matters that have long been recognized as protected speech under the First Amendment.
Yet, the panel decision does not change my determination to proceed with the federal lawsuit I filed seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction against the Commission. In that lawsuit, I allege that the Canons on which I have been prosecuted are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, that the Commission's procedures violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 4A(1), 4B, and 5A(1)(b) of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct are unconstitutional, given the Commission's application of those Canons to what is plainly protected speech, religious expression, and associational conduct under the First Amendment. The panel's decision does not cure those constitutional flaws. As such, it does not moot my federal lawsuit.
We will either find a way or make one. Hannibal of Carthage