W.Va. Supreme Court: Workman Trial Cannot Be Held
By JESS MANCINI
For the News-Register
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court has agreed with a justice who was trying to stop the impeachment trial against her that is scheduled to begin Monday.
Justice Margaret Workman said the proceedings against her were flawed on constitutional, jurisdictional and procedural reasons, including due process and the lack of findings of fact. In a decision released Thursday, a panel of five circuit court judges appointed to serve as justices for Workman’s case agreed. She cannot be tried by the Senate, the court ordered.
“We are gravely concerned with the procedural flaws that occurred in the House of Delegates,” wrote Acting Chief Justice A. Matish in the 70-page majority opinion. “Basic due process principles demand that governmental bodies follow the rules they enact for the purpose of imposing sanctions against public officials. This right to due process is heightened when the Legislature attempts to impeach a public official. Therefore we hold, in the strongest of terms, that the Due Process Clause (in the state Constitution) requires the House of Delegates follow the procedures that it creates to impeach a public officer. Failure to follow such rules will invalidate all Articles of Impeachment that it returns against a public officer.”
Workman was cited in three articles of impeachment claiming she signed off to pay senior status judges more than state code allows and that she and other justices spent public money on lavish and unnecessary spending.
Senate leaders initially planned to proceed with the trial Monday, according to a statement from Senate President Mitch Carmichael through spokesman Jacque Bland. That plan was being reviewed today, however.
“We have received the court’s order and are planning to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals,” the statement said. “Pursuant to the authority granted the Senate in the West Virginia Constitution, the Court of Impeachment will convene at 9 a.m. Monday.”
Senate attorneys argued approving Workman’s petition would encroach upon the Legislature’s sole power of impeachment and violate the Separation of Powers clause.
Matish and Justices Rudolph J. Murensky and Ronald E. Wilson were in the majority. Justices Louis H. Bloom and Jacob E. Reger dissented in part and issued a separate opinion.
“The majority opinion correctly determined that the judiciary has a limited role in impeachment proceedings, that extends to protecting the constitutional rights of an impeached official,” wrote dissenting justices in the minority opinion. “However, the majority opinion went beyond that limited role. Specifically, the majority opinion determined that it had authority to decide that two alleged procedural errors invalidated the entire impeachment proceedings.”
The decision also effects the remaining trials against Robin Davis and Allen Loughry, Bloom and Reger said.
The House approved the articles of impeachment in August and Davis resigned the day after. Loughry also is on trial in U.S. District Court and was suspended earlier.
The Senate acquitted Justice Beth Walker of the article of impeachment against her.