Former Justice Menis Ketchum takes plea deal in federal investigation of W.Va. Supreme Court
CHARLESTON – A former justice of the state’s highest court is cooperating with federal investigators as they look into abuse of the public’s trust by the court.
Menis Ketchum, whose last day as a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals was Friday, pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony count of wire fraud for improper use of a state fuel card.
In the information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ketchum is cited for using state vehicles for two out-of-state golf outings to the Old Farm Golf Club in Bristol, Virginia, and using the state fuel card for gas for these personal trips.
The plea deal was announced in a press conference Tuesday morning at the Robert C. Byrd Courthouse in Charleston by Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.
An information is a criminal charge used when a defendant pleads guilty and usually means the defendant is cooperating with other investigations. The plea agreement will be available after a motion hearing expected to be scheduled in a few days.
“Justice Ketchum agreed to do the right thing for doing the wrong thing,” Stuart said. “Justice Ketchum stepped up and owned his illegal activity.
The single charge of wire fraud carries a penalty up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Stuart said that Ketchum was honest with federal agents during the investigation.
“We believe the best interest of the public and the fair administration of equal justice under the law is best served by this guilty plea by Justice Ketchum,” Stuart said.
Stuart would not comment if Ketchum’s recent resignation was related to the plea deal his office offered Ketchum. Stuart would also not confirm or deny whether further investigations into the Supreme Court are ongoing, but he did say his office would announce “affirmingly” when supreme court investigations would end.
“There is no such thing as a little public corruption,” Stuart said. “I intend to do all I can to ensure our people have the honest government they deserve.”
Ketchum and Justice Allen Loughry were the focus of two legislative audits earlier this year. The reports allege that Ketchum and Loughry violated the ethics act by using the court’s fleet of vehicles owned for personal use.
In the reports, Ketchum is cited for using a state car to commute back and forth between Charleston and his home in Huntington. Legislative auditors also found that Ketchum used state vehicles for personal golf outings in Virginia. The reports noted that Ketchum reimbursed the state and amended his tax forms when the issues were brought to his attention.
Ketchum’s name came up a few times during the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into impeachable offenses committed by supreme court justices. According to testimony from former court Director of Technology Scott Harvey, Ketchum threatened to fire him twice if he couldn’t get the State Treasurer’s Office to sign off on a proposed plan to circumvent the state payment process for a fee the court wanted to charge for online access to magistrate court documents.
Loughry is also facing 23 federal charges, including obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and lying to federal investigators. He pleaded not guilty to these charges and is awaiting trial. Loughry also faces a 32-count complaint by the state Judicial Investigation Commission. He was suspended without pay.
Loughry and the remaining justices are now the focus of the House of Delegates, as the judiciary committee investigates the court to determine if articles of impeachment should be approved and sent to the Senate to sit as jury. The committee meets again on Monday, August 6.
Ketchum’s resignation marks the end of a decade on the state’s highest court. He was first elected to the supreme court in 2008 and took the bench in 2009. He served as chief justice twice, in 2012 and 2016.
“This is not a sad day for West Virginia as some would want to paint it,” Stuart said. “Now we’re one step closer to ending this crisis of this court.”
A native of Wayne County, Ketchum received his law degree from West Virginia University in 1967, and practiced law at his family’s firm in Huntington. He is a former member of Marshall University’s Board of Governors, with roles as chairman and vice chairman of the board.
Ketchum’s 12-year term would have been up in 2020 before his resignation. Now, Governor Jim Justice will appoint a replacement, who will serve until voters select a new justice to fill the remainder of the term in a special election in November.