Workman Defiant, Davis Steps Down From West Virginia Supreme Court
CHARLESTON — Chief Justice Margaret Workman had a message for those expecting her to resign: She’s not going anywhere.
Workman issued a statement Tuesday afternoon after speculation grew that she might resign from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The statement came after Justice Robin Davis announced her resignation that morning, and a day after the House of Delegates impeached her and all sitting justices.
“I am not resigning, either from the court or from my position as Chief Justice,” Workman said. “There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do.”
Davis announced her resignation in the Supreme Court chambers before family and friends. The House adopted 11 articles of impeachment against Davis and Workman, as well as justices Allen Loughry and Beth Walker. Davis’ resignation was effective Aug. 13.
“I was dismayed by the House of Delegates’ decision yesterday to pursue the mass impeachment of the entire West Virginia Supreme Court,” Workman said. “I will miss my colleague and friend, Justice Robin Jean Davis, but respect the reasons she chose to retire.”
Davis, who was first elected to the court in 1996, said she resigned in order to give citizens a say in who replaces her. Aug. 14 was the cutoff to get a Supreme Court seat on the November ballot for a special election. Any vacancies after Aug. 14 would be appointed by Gov. Jim Justice until a special election could be held in May 2020.
“Now, the citizens — and let me repeat that — the citizens of West Virginia, will be afforded their constitutional right to elect my successor in November,” Davis said.
Until that special election, Justice will work with the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to find a qualified replacement for Davis.
“Today, my general counsel will provide the necessary documentation to the Secretary of State’s office so that the special election process may begin immediately for this vacancy,” Justice said. “The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will immediately begin the process of filling this vacancy with an appointee to serve as a justice until the people of West Virginia elect a new justice in a special election.”
In her statement Tuesday morning, Davis accused lawmakers of trying to stack the court with conservative justices.
“The majority have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court,” Davis said. “They have erased the lines of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences.”
Davis’ resignation makes the second time a Supreme Court justice has resigned in the past 20 days. Former Justice Menis Ketchum resigned July 27 after several legislative audits cited him for use of state vehicles and fuel cards for his personal benefit. He was first elected in 2008.
Shortly after his resignation, Ketchum was charged in a one-count federal information for felony wire fraud. Ketchum agreed to a plea deal, which will be heard Aug. 23. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia said Ketchum is cooperating with federal investigators as they look at the Supreme Court.
Another justice, Loughry, is suspended without pay while he works his way through the federal court system. He is charged in a 32-count federal indictment, which includes charges of obstruction of justice, wire fraud, witness tampering and lying to the FBI. He also faces a 23-count complaint from the state Judicial Investigation Commission for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Walker also announced her intent to remain on the court.
“I remain committed to my oath of office and to serving the citizens of this great state,” Walker said. “My focus will be on earning their trust and confidence and restoring integrity to their Supreme Court. Even though I disagree with some of the decisions of the House of Delegates, I respect their important constitutional role in this process and I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions.”
Walker went a step further, adding, “I agree that expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight. As an important part of our government’s checks and balances, I will work with the legislature and support their oversight of the Court’s budget.”
Workman was selected as chief justice in February after allegations against Loughry surfaced. At the time, news reports accused Loughry of lavish spending on his office, and taking state property — an antique desk and a leather couch donated by a former justice — to his home for personal use. Later, legislative audits found that Loughry and Ketchum used state vehicles for personal trips using the state purchasing cards to refuel.
The impeachment articles charge all four justices with “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty and certain high crimes and misdemeanors” as prescribed by the state constitution.
Workman was charged with three articles of impeachment. Two of the articles focused on overpayments of senior status judges in violation of state code on her order during a prior term as chief justice. The final charged Workman — as well as Loughry, Walker, and Davis — for failing to have processes and policies governing travel, purchasing, bidding, reporting taxable fringe benefits, inventory control and home computer use.
Workman was first elected to the supreme court in 1988. She was the first woman elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the first woman to be elected to statewide office in the state’s history. She resigned in 1999 before the end of her first term and returned to her private law practice. She was elected again to the Supreme Court in 2009.
The state Senate, which will sit as a jury during an impeachment trial, will convene Tuesday to approve a resolution setting up rules of procedure for the trial portion of impeachment. Workman said the business of the court will continue. Last week she appointed Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to fill in for Loughry. He also would serve as acting Chief Justice when the Senate conducts its impeachment trial.
“I want the citizens of our state to know that the Court will move forward,” Workman said. “The cases set for the fall term, which opens Sept. 5, will be heard and decided as scheduled. I look forward to putting all the facts before the Senate in the next phase of this process.”