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Ark. judge who waged free-speech fight is voted off bench

By The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An appeals court judge who successfully battled an ethics panel for the right to criticize President Bush and the war in Iraq was voted off the bench yesterday, six years after his remarks first attracted controversy.

Wendell Griffen, a Baptist minister who joined the state's second-highest court in 1996, lost decisively to a juvenile court judge. His opponent did not discuss Griffen's comments during the campaign but credited them in part for her victory.

"I think it's fair to say that there were a lot of people in the community who were disappointed with the statements he's made over the years," Judge Rita Gruber said.

Griffen blamed the loss on low voter turnout rather than his political remarks, which were all made outside court.

He said: "I would much rather have maintained my integrity and experienced these results than sacrificed my integrity for political expediency. I think my supporters and detractors can agree that Wendell Griffen is a man of integrity. You may not like what he says, but he is not someone who bends according to whatever winds blow."

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission sought sanctions against Griffen in 2002, after the judge criticized the University of Arkansas' racial diversity in the wake of the firing of popular basketball coach Nolan Richardson.

The judge later criticized President Bush, the war in Iraq and the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina.

Speaking at a National Baptist Convention meeting in 2005, Griffen said Hurricane Katrina "is just the latest example of the poor functioning of our government."

In defending his right to speak freely, Griffen relied mainly on the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, which struck down a Minnesota rule barring judicial candidates from speaking out on disputed legal or political issues. Arkansas' court rules were similar to Minnesota's.

The state judicial discipline panel dropped its case against Griffen last year.

Panel drops case against outspoken Ark. judge
But Wendell Griffen says he will continue to pursue federal lawsuit challenging judicial code of ethics under which he was accused. 09.24.07


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