Judge Wendell Griffen
LITTLE ROCK -- Outspoken Arkansas Court of Appeals Justice Wendell Griffen is set to finally face a disciplinary hearing over his controversial comments. After many months, several delays and a successful appeal to the state Supreme Court, Arkansas's Judicial Discpline and Disability Commission voted 5-3 Friday to hold a disciplinary hearing against Griffen. The commission charges Griffen with breaching judicial canon by publicly criticizing, among others, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Chief Justice John Roberts, over the past year. He was previously disciplined on outspokenness charges in 2002. Griffen ran last year for a vacant seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, which he lost to Justice Paul Danielson 57 per cent to 43 per cent. He claims the commission's present action amounts to a breach of his First Amendment rights because his comments concerned only federal politics and issues unconnected with his state duties. He has also taken several legal steps against the commission. Early last month Griffen won a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that threw Friday's preliminary hearing open to the public. Early this month, according to a recent Arkansas Times blog post, he unsuccesfully requested that Commission Chairman Michael Gott recuse himself from the hearing. Griffen accused Gott of forwarding information from the present complaint to a second investigation of judicial misconduct against him. That investigation concerns views he expressed in e-mails sent during his Supreme Court campaign last year. The legal acrimony spilled over into Friday's hearing, with Gott at one point yelling at Griffen to stop saying "yes, sir." The controversial judge apparently refuses to be silenced. Late last month Griffen repeated many of his criticisms against the federal government at a local Democratic Women's meeting, according to another blogger. Griffen's speech that evening included charges that the government is using fear of terrorism as an excuse to remove Constitutional liberties. Although Griffen's hearing Friday was held in public, the justices voted against him in private. No date was set for his future disciplinary hearing, which could vote to either dismiss the complaint, censure or reprimand Griffen, or suspend or remove him. At the disciplinary hearing, unlike at Friday's hearing, both sides will be allowed to call and cross-examine witnesses.