West Virginia Supreme Court’s Spending Reviewed
CHARLESTON — After a marathon session Thursday, members of the House Judiciary Committee had no major witnesses Friday, choosing to review invoices and travel records of justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Hearing from legislative attorneys and auditors, the committee reviewed invoices for the renovation of offices for the supreme court justices. The Legislature’s Post Audit Division is still collecting information on the construction invoices.
Justin Robinson, acting director of the Post Audit Division, said the court provided auditors with more than 1,000 pages of invoices and documentation, but it’s not a complete record of the office renovations.
“We were notified yesterday by the current interim director of court administration that our binder is not complete and there were some items omitted at the request of Justice Loughry when it was prepared,” Robinson said.
“The court said they would provide the additional documentation omitted, so we are awaiting that information and we will continue our path to reviewing that information and confirming it’s complete and accurate.”
The court paid for renovations to the following offices:
∫ Justice Robin Davis: $500,678;
∫ Justice Allen Loughry: $363,013;
∫ Former Justice Brent Benjamin: $264,301;
∫ Justice Menis Ketchum: $171,838;
∫ Justice Beth Walker: $130,655;
∫ Justice Margaret Workman: $111,035.
The Supreme Court spent $114,788 for framing between 2009 and 2015, $6,288 of which can be traced back to only one justice. In testimony Thursday, former court administrator Steve Canterbury said that Loughry had many items framed, including two items that he could not find in Loughry’s office.
Attorneys for the committee had incomplete information regarding working lunches the court paid for from high-end restaurants in Charleston. The court spent $42,315 on working lunches for justices and staff over a five-year period, including $4,343 for lunches that could not be verified as days when the court met for official business. Records for 2013 only include the months of March through December.
Earlier this week, the state’s Judicial Investigation Commission closed investigations into the remaining justices — Loughry is suspended without pay and Ketchum’s last day as justice was Friday — regarding these paid lunches. The JIC said the working lunches did not violate ethics rules or IRS regulations. Committee chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said that’s only part of the story.
“That really did not address the second issue, as to whether or not the cost of these lunches might have been excessive,” Shott said.
The committee turned its attention towards Loughry’s use of the court’s official vehicles, including two specific incidents where he used a state vehicle for personal use.
One of those instances involved a magistrate court case involving Allen Loughry Sr., the father of Justice Loughry’s father. A pest control company was taking Loughry’s father to Tucker County Magistrate Court in Jan. 29, 2014, over a $500 bill.
“Ordinarily as a committee we would not be concerned with what Loughry did or didn’t do with a failure to pay his pest management company which he had hired,” said committee counsel Brian Casto. “Apparently Justice Loughry, according to the vehicle logs we have, noted he took a state vehicle to Tucker County for a meeting with magistrates.”
Loughry did meet with one of the county’s two magistrates, according to Casto, but only after sitting in during his father’s court case. Loughry was the only person in attendance outside the sitting magistrate Carol Irons, the plaintiff, and Loughry’s father. The case was dismissed without any motions by Loughry’s father.
“She knew who Justice Loughry was and knew that he was present in the court room,” Casto said.
Loughry also held multiple signings at the Greenbrier Resort of his book on political corruption, “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid And Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.”
During five book signings held at the Greenbrier between December 2012 and March 2015, Loughry took a state car. None of the five events correspond with any official work of the court or official speaking engagements.
Reports prepared by the JIC, and Legislative Auditor’s Office, and a recent federal indictment of Loughry all cite improper use of state vehicles by Loughry. The JIC filed a 32-count complaint against Loughry for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. That investigation is pending while Loughry awaits trial for a 23-count federal indictment. Loughry pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, including obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to federal investigators.
The House Judiciary Committee is looking at evidence and hearing testimony to determine if it should present articles of impeachment on one or more justice to the entire House of Delegates. If the House approves articles of impeachment, the state Senate would sit as jury and determine if a justice should be removed from office.
The House Judiciary Committee will return possibly Aug. 5, and continue that week.