Audit: West Virginia Supreme Court Justices May Have Violated Law
CHARLESTON (AP) — Two West Virginia Supreme Court justices may have violated state Ethics Act provisions that prohibit using public office for private gain, according to an audit released Monday.
Justices Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum ignored mandatory reporting guidelines for the personal use of state-owned vehicles, Legislative Post Audit Division director Denny Rhodes said in releasing a 60-page report to a legislative committee.
The report also questioned Loughry’s personal use of rental vehicles at state expense during out-of-state trips and showed Loughry had a state-owned antique desk appraised at $42,000 brought to his home in 2013. Loughry returned the desk after news media inquiries.
Rhodes said the findings have been reported to the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
Justice Margaret Workman, speaking on behalf of the court, said a record-keeping policy for state vehicles by state Supreme Court employees has been adopted and a full inventory of court resources is being conducted.
“I think on a lot of these issues, we were kind of busy being judges and not perhaps paying enough attention to the administrative end of things,” Workman said. “That has changed. I believe the policies going forward are going to be much tighter.”
Neither Loughry nor Ketchum attended the hearing.
The report said the state vehicle usage shows “a complete lack of regard for the principles of fiscal prudence and responsibility” and that the court’s failure to follow state and federal tax laws “is particularly troublesome.”
The use of state-owned vehicles and mileage reimbursements should have been reported as taxable fringe benefits on the federal W-2 forms of Ketchum and Loughry but were not, “although there is evidence to suggest that the justices and their staff knew that the personal use should have been included,” the report said.
Loughry did not disclose a purpose or destination for 148 out of 212 vehicle reservations of a state car from 2013 to 2015.
Many of those occurred in December when the court was in recess, the report said.
In addition, during seven out-of-state trips from 2013 to 2017 in which Loughry rented cars at a total cost of $2,669, the actual miles driven far exceeded the round-trip miles from the airport to the hotel where he stayed for conferences.
“He, in our opinion, should have considered using a taxi, shuttle, public transportation, rather than renting a vehicle,” Rhodes said.
The report also said Ketchum used a state vehicle to drive to Virginia for personal golf trips and charged $203 in fuel purchases to the state.
The report said Ketchum repaid the state $1,664 for incorrect travel reimbursements. In a statement attached to the report, Ketchum said he plans to pay any taxes due for use of the state car when he receives amended W-2s.
Loughry said in a separate statement he contests the “factual and legal assumptions made, the standards and definitions applied, and the conclusions ultimately reached.”