Political history was made this week when the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach the entire West Virginia Supreme Court.
On August 7, the state House panel in West Virginia adopted articles of impeachment against every sitting justice: Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Davis, Justice Beth Walker and Justice Allen Loughry. Loughry has also been indicted on federal charges for fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal investigators.
The articles of impeachment charge the state supreme court justices with corruption, maladministration, incompetence and neglect of duty. All justices on the court were accused of excessive and lavish spending for things such as office remodeling, and not properly executing court administrative policies. Davis, Workman and Loughry also have been accused of paying retired judges more than state law allows.
According to Judiciary Chairman John Shott, it was a sad day and it is no cause for celebration when an impeachment vote such as this occurs. The articles will now go to the state House. Now the articles of impeachment will go to the state House for a vote. If they are approved, they will go to the state Senate. There they need to get a ⅔ vote of the votes of the Chamber for an impeachment trial to occur.
If ⅔ of the state senate approves, which would be 23 members, the Senate would proceed with the trial. If ⅔ find that any justice in the articles did do an impeachable offense, they will be removed immediately from office and will be banned from ever getting a public office in the state again.
The House Judiciary Committee has met several times since mid July when members heard testimony from auditors and also from former workers for the supreme court. Committee members reviewed thousands of documents and records about renovations at the court and the personal use of state furniture, vehicle sand funds. The committee also sent out subpoenas to the state Judicial Investigation Commission to get access to some of this information.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 10, 2018
On July 23, the commission issued a press release that stated no charges would be filed against Chief Justice Margaret Workman. Charges also were not filed against Justices Beth Walker and Robin Davis. Their use of state vehicles and working lunches was reviewed, and no violations of the law were found.
Last month, Menis Ketchem resigned from the WV Supreme Court just before state lawmakers started to consider impeachment. According to a West Virginia newspaper, Ketchum pleaded guilty in federal court to a single count of wire fraud for the improper use of a fuel card provided by the state. He was charged and convicted for using state government vehicles for two golf outings at the Old Farm Golf Club in Bristol, VA. He used the state gas card to pay for fuel for those trips. The single charge of wire fraud can get him a prison term of up to 20 years and a fine of $250,000.
Ketchum and Loughry were the focus of two audits in early 2018. The reports from the audits alleged that both justices were in violation of the ethics act because they used the court’s vehicles for personal use. Ketchum was also cited in the reports for using a state vehicle to commute from Charleston to his house in Huntington. Legislative auditors also noted that Ketchum was using state vehicles for the golf outings. Ketchum also reimbursed the state government and amended his tax filings when the issues were found.
Loughry has pleaded not guilty to the 23 federal charges against him. He also is facing a 32 count complaint with the state Judicial Investigation Committee. He has been suspended without pay at this time.
New Judge Appointed
Due to the suspension of Loughry, a circuit judge from Cabell County WV has been appointed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. In the wake of the House Judiciary Committee adopting 14 impeachment articles against all of the state supreme court justices, Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed Paul Farrell from the Sixth Circuit Court to the supreme court.
According to an administrative order yesterday, Workman noted that Loughry’s suspension and the retirement of Ketchum necessitated the appointment of the circuit judge.
Workman stated in a press release there were many questions from court workers if the work of the WV Supreme Court would continue; the new term starts Sept. 5. She said that the court will continue to work as scheduled as the court calendar is set and the docket will proceed. Workman also stated that supreme court justices are required under the state constitution to keep the state court open; they will continue to fulfill their duties as the state constitution requires.