Walker, Workman May Stay

Allen Loughry has to go. The man who wrote the book on political corruption in West Virginia has furnished plenty of material for the next one, if federal prosecutors are correct.

It’s virtually certain that, within a few weeks, state senators will vote to remove Loughry from office.

What about Elizabeth Walker and Margaret Workman? They, like Loughry, have been impeached and will be tried in the Senate. Their cases are much less conclusive, however.

All three are justices of the state Supreme Court. The other two, Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis, already have resigned as a result of the same scandal that could claim the jobs of Loughry, Walker and Workman.

House of Delegates members have impeached the three. On Monday, senators begin laying the groundwork for a formal trial that could lead to the three being removed from office.

Multiple articles against Loughry were approved. His removal is a foregone conclusion.

But on Walker and Workman, delegates seemed less to be out for blood.

Just two articles of impeachment were approved against Workman. One involves her time as chief justice, when she approved contracts for senior status (retired) judges called back for temporary assignments. The contracts circumvented state law that bans paying senior status judges more than those on active duty. That article passed by a 63-34 vote in the House.

Another article against Workman, also involving the senior status judges, passed by the same vote.

But as one of those objecting, Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, pointed out, none of the justices benefited personally from the move on senior status judges. “This wouldn’t pass a motion to dismiss in circuit court,” he added.

Another article, No. 14, is a sweeping accusation against all the justices. It is the only other one involving Walker and Workman.

Article 14 is a sort of catch-all, accusing the justices of failing to adopt policies that allowed abuses such as those by Loughry. Specifically, the article states they should have had better policies on use of state property, reporting certain benefits to the Internal Revenue Service and on purchasing.

That last was what got the impeachment move going. High court justices spent more than $1.5 million having their offices remodeled. Neither Walker nor Workman is accused of spending too much on that, however.

So, it comes down to this:

Workman is accused of circumventing the Legislature on payment of senior status judges, and of failing to have policies preventing multiple administrative failures.

Walker is accused only of the latter offense.

Both have indicated they are eager to make their cases before the state Senate. Walker actually agreed with some criticism of the court, saying in a printed release that she “will work with the legislature and support their oversight of the court’s budget.”

We’ve already lost two of the five justices. Loughry will be removed by the Senate. That leaves just Walker and Workman. Will they get the boot, too?

I’m not as certain as some about that.

Removing every public official who wasted taxpayers’ money, circumvented — but did not break — state law, or failed to establish and enforce policies to prevent abuses would empty a lot of offices in Charleston.

Should a substantial number of state officials and employees be fired (and possibly prosecuted). Perhaps. But will that happen? No.

It may be that Walker and Workman should be censured by the Legislature. But concluding they should be removed would be premature — at least until they’ve had a chance to explain.

Did someone else, not an elected official, tell them what they were doing was acceptable, even normal procedure? Was their failing simply in trusting someone too much?

It’s going to be an interesting trial in the state Senate. Unless I miss my guess, obtaining the two-thirds votes needed to remove Walker and Workman will be difficult.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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