The Honorable Wendell L. Griffen is an Arkansas lawyer, jurist, legal educator, ordained Baptist minister, business leader and public speaker.
Griffen was born in Prescott, Ark., and later attended the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he received the Juris Doctor degree. While in law school, he served in the Student Bar Association, was president of the Black Law Student Association, and was Associate Editor of the Arkansas Law Review. In 1985, Governor Bill Clinton appointed him Chairman of the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission, making him the first Black person named to that state agency and the first to chair it. In 1995, Governor Jim Guy Tucker appointed Judge Griffen to the Court of Appeals. In 2009, Griffen joined the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law faculty as a Visiting Professor of Law teaching pretrial criminal procedure and leading a seminar titled “Cultural Competency, Inclusion, and Law.” In 2011, Griffen was elected as judge to Arkansas’ Sixth Circuit for Pulaski County. He also currently serves as pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock and CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting.
On April 14, Judge Wendell L. Griffen issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) blocking Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s unprecedented execution schedule for the state in April. The TRO prevents Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs it uses in executions, because the supplier, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc, said the state misleadingly obtained the drug.
Arkansas was seeking to execute eight men in 11 days, because the state’s supply of vecuronium bromide expires at the end of the month.
A day later, on April 15, after a four day hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker ruled in favor of the inmates and issued a preliminary injunction. “The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern,” Ms. Baker said in her order according to The Washington Times. The inmates had filed a legal challenge against the state’s accelerated timetable as well as the drug protocol.
On April 17, the Arkansas Supreme Court barred Griffen from taking up any death penalty related cases after it was learned he participated in two anti-death penalty protests shortly after issuing the TRO on April 14. At one demonstration, Griffen was strapped flat to a cot to simulate a death row inmate about to receive lethal injection. The Supreme Court also referred Griffen to the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to consider whether he violated the code of conduct for judges. According to the Associated Press, “The judge says he’s morally opposed to the death penalty, but that his beliefs shouldn’t prevent him from taking up certain cases.”