West Virginia House Impeaches All Four Supreme Court Justices

Photo by Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislative Services West Virginia Delegate Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, left, speaks Monday with Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, on the House floor as members of the chamber debated articles of impeachment against state Supreme Court of Appeals justices.

CHARLESTON — After a historic day and night of debate, the West Virginia House of Delegates adopted 11 articles of impeachment for all four sitting members of the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

Justices Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman, Robin Davis and Beth Walker were impeached Monday during a special session of the House of Delegates that started at 10 a.m. and ended after midnight.

“This is indeed a sad day and no cause for anybody to celebrate,” said Delegate John Shott, a Republican from Mercer County and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “It is our duty, and I think the public demands it.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee met for eight days over a period of five weeks since Gov. Jim Justice called the special session to begin investigation of the state Supreme Court for possible articles of impeachment.

During the final hours of Monday’s special session, debate focused on whether to impeach Walker, who first took office in January 2017.

Walker was charged with one article of impeachment for $131,000 of office renovations, including $27,000 in furnishings. The renovations came after former Justice Brent Benjamin renovated the same office space eight years earlier at a cost of $264,301. The article was rejected 51-44.

House Majority Leader Darrell Cowles, R-Morgan, spoke against impeaching Walker, saying her office spending was a mere fraction of what some other justices spent on their offices.

“It is a fraction of the spending in the Davis impeachment article,” Cowles said. “I’m not sure the spending in this article for Justice Walker’s office was nearly as egregious as some of the others.”

Two members of the Wood County delegation voted against the Walker article. Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, asked to recuse himself from the vote for having donated to Walker’s campaign. He was instructed to vote since there were likely other donors to her campaign in the chamber, making him a member of a class. Kelly said Walker’s renovations were only because Benjamin’s renovations were personalized and needed removed before she could use the office.

“Earlier in the evening we heard testimony that when Justice Loughry’s was remodeled it was personalized,” Kelly said. “We heard later that when Justice Davis’ office was remodeled it was personalized. And we heard testimony in both of those cases that probably some of that was going to have to be taken out when the next justice comes in and takes over those offices. Now we’re hearing testimony that Justice Walker came in and remodeled an office she had inherited from a former justice.”

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said Walker’s office spending, as well as the spending by other justices, was well within the authority of the court. The governor and the Legislature do not have legal authority to cut the Supreme Court’s budget, though an amendment on the November ballot would — if passed — would allow voters to give budget oversight to the executive and legislative branches.

“I do not believe that the impeachment process on this article is the appropriate remedy to punish them for exercising bad judgment,” Anderson said. “Even though I don’t think their judgment was very sound, they have the constitutional authority to spend the money the way they chose to spend it.”

Walker — along with every other sitting justice — was charged in the final article of impeachment. The article charged all four with maladministration, corruption, incompetency and neglect of duty.

In the final article, the entire court was accused of not having travel policies prior to 2016, not reporting taxable fringe benefits to the IRS, providing no supervision of spending and purchasing card use, having no policy on home offices, having no inventory system and not putting projects out for bid.

An amendment by Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, to remove Walker from that impeachment charge failed 83-12.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, accused Republican members of the house of trying to stack the court with conservative justices by attempting to remove Walker from the articles of impeachment.

“Just when you’ve seen it all in the State of West Virginia, we have a blatant attempt to carve out conservative justices,” Fluharty said. “This is pure partisan politics.”

Loughry, who is facing a 23-count federal indictment and 32-count complaint from the state Judicial Investigation Commission, was the focus of most of the impeachment articles. Loughry was named in six of the articles of impeachment adopted Monday.

The six articles accuse Loughry of excessive spending on office renovations, taking of antique furniture for his home office, the overpayment of senior status judges against state code, using state vehicles and fuel cards for personal trips, using state computers for family photos and games, and lying under oath to the House Finance Committee.

Davis faced impeachment charges for the costs of her office renovations and for senior status judge overpayments. Both Davis and Workman were charged together and separately for these overpayments.

In these articles, the justices — while serving at various times as chief justice — participated in a scheme to overpay senior status judges whom they appointed to fill in for other justices and circuit court judges. These appointed judges, who were also receiving money from their judicial retirement plans, were not allowed to make more than a sitting judge at $126,000 per state code.

One justice, Menis Ketchum, has already resigned and is cooperating in a federal investigation of the state Supreme Court. Ketchum agreed to a plea deal and is charged in an information with one felony count of wire fraud for using state vehicles and fuel cards for out-of-state golf outings.

The next stop for the articles of impeachment is the state Senate, who will sit as a jury during a trial for the justices. Delegates appointed as managers during the House impeachment process will serve as prosecutors, while the justices will be represented by their own legal counsels.

Normally, the chief justice of the Supreme Court would preside over the impeachment trial. Chief Justice Workman, who will be one of the four on trial, appointed Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to fill in for Loughry, who is suspended without pay. Farrell also would serve as acting chief justice, and would have authority to appoint a replacement for himself should he have to recuse himself from the impeachment trial.

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