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House members file JIC complaint against judge over Bentley ruling

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Several House Republicans have filed an official complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission alleging Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin violated several canons of judicial ethics by failing to recuse from a temporary restraining order request filed last week by former Gov. Robert Bentley.

Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Cullman) and around a dozen other House members filed the complaint, which also alleges a history of violations by Griffin.

“Judge Griffin failed to disqualify himself in a case where his partiality was reasonably questioned, ruled in a case which was far beyond the scope of his constitutional jurisdiction – revealing a flagrant disregard for the law, and by continued disregard of the Canons has compromised public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” the complaint reads.

The allegations against Griffin center on his decision to hear Bentley’s TRO request, which Griffin granted, and also mention Griffin’s ruling in favor of Bentley in a previous case involving Bentley’s decision to use BP oil spill money to build a new lodge at Gulf State Park.

Griffin became the judge of record in the TRO matter after another Montgomery County Circuit Court judge, Roman Shaul, recused himself, citing the fact that Bentley had appointed him judge in January. Bentley also appointed Griffin and did so in a highly controversial move.

Respected attorney James Anderson had been serving as a circuit court judge, without pay, for three months after the retirement of Tracy McCooey in 2014. Anderson said he was given assurances by “people close to Bentley” that he would eventually be appointed to the bench – which, he said, was the reason he gave up a lucrative law practice and worked without pay.

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However, Bentley selected Griffin in December 2014, surprising even some people close to the Governor.

Anderson eventually won a spot on the bench after former Judge William Shashy elected not to run again last year. But Anderson said the slight by Bentley “hurt” him financially in a big way.

Eighteen months later, Griffin presided over a complaint brought by State Auditor Jim Zeigler concerning Bentley’s use of BP oil funds to build the lodge at Gulf State Park. It’s unclear if the attorneys in the case requested that Griffin recuse, but the complaint filed Thursday against Griffin states it is the judge’s responsibility to step aside when there is an appearance of conflict.

Griffin ultimately ruled that Bentley was immune from prosecution by virtue of his office.

“Griffin’s pro-Bentley ruling in Zeigler v. Bentley (Gulf State Park case) raises the concern that such failure to disqualify himself when impartiality is reasonably questioned is not a one-time exception but a disturbing career pattern,” the complaint states.

In addition to finding fault with Griffin’s refusal to step aside in the TRO hearing last week, the complaint also alleges that Griffin overstepped his authority and ignored decades of precedent by granting the TRO and interfering in the business of the Legislature.

“(Griffin’s) actions are museum-quality exhibits of the very unethical conduct the Canons of Judicial Ethics were established to prevent and indeed, it is not a stretch to assert that the public has no reason to be confident in the integrity of their judiciary, the preservation of the three branches of their government, or the impartiality of their courts if Judge Griffin continues to play fast-and- loose with the Canons,” the complaint reads. “We respectfully request that the Judicial Inquiry Commission investigate the concerns in this Complaint and recommend that the Honorable Greg Griffin Sr. face charges in the Court of the Judiciary.”

 

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