House Gavels In, Court Gavels Out

Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals announced arguments scheduled before the court in September would be moved to October.

Jennifer Bundy, the court’s spokeswoman, wouldn’t provide any additional information as to why, but it’s pretty obvious. Pretrial hearings for the impeachment trials of Chief Justice Margaret Workman, suspended Justice Allen Loughry and Justice Beth Walker start Sept. 11, and it sounds like the trials will move fairly quickly after that.

Yet, I was very confused. Workman, on two separate occasions, made it a point of stressing that the court’s fall term would start as scheduled.

“I want the citizens of our state to know that the court will move forward,” Workman said in an Aug. 14 statement after the House of Delegates adopted 11 articles of impeachment against she, Loughry, Walker and former justice Robin Davis, who announced her resignation that same day. “The cases set for the fall term, which opens Sept. 5, will be heard and decided as scheduled.

“Court employees have received many inquiries about whether the work of the court will continue as scheduled in the term that begins Sept. 5. It will,” Workman said Aug. 9 when announcing the appointment of Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Paul Farrell to fill in for Loughry, who is suspended.

Those statements would seem to contradict what the court decided to do. I understand the sitting justices are going to be distracted as the West Virginia Senate puts them on trial, but that’s no reason for the court not to continue.

For example, Workman just appointed 24th District Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt and 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Alan Moats to hear Constitution Party candidate Don Blankenship’s petition for a writ of mandamus to get on the November ballot for U.S. Senate. I already mentioned her appointment of Farrell. Workman could appoint sitting circuit judges or senior status judges to sit as acting justices while the current justices head off to trial.

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With Tim Armstead stepping down from the House of Delegates where he was speaker to run for former justice Menis Ketchum’s seat (and he could already be appointed to sit until the November special election), we find out Wednesday who shall prevail as the new speaker.

So, who are some of the candidates seeking the Republican House caucus nomination? I have a few ideas.

First up is House Majority Leader Darrell Cowles, R-Morgan. He has been Armstead’s right-hand man the past four years and is de facto heir apparent. However, he has upset some in the Republican caucus for not being conservative enough and for hampering the efforts of some lawmakers to get their legislation through the body.

Next is House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. Nelson has been on the front lines of budget fights and is a pro-business Republican. However, some point to his handling of the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform. What began as a bold effort to finally overhaul the state’s tax code ultimately panned out to nothing. Some attribute that to Nelson, the co-chair of that committee, watering down the joint committee’s mission whenever confronted by reporters hostile to true tax reform.

Another name floating out there is Delegate Riley Moore, R-Jefferson. The nephew of U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Moore is quickly gaining respect in his first term. But that’s also the problem: it’s his first term. Some believe that Moore hasn’t put in the time to warrant rising to the podium.

Last on my list is Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. Hanshaw was first elected in 2014 when Republicans first took the House majority after more than 80 years of Democratic Party control. He might only have two terms, but he was an attorney for both the House and Senate for a number of years. He is a certified parliamentarian. He is vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, one of the House’s impeachment managers and co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding, which is looking into the RISE West Virginia fiasco.

In short, he is well-respected, often thrust into leadership positions, knows about drafting laws, knows his way around parliamentary procedure and is young at 38. There probably isn’t anyone more qualified for the job. At least one political action committee has even started pushing Facebook ads out of the blue for Hanshaw.

I do have a wildcard though: Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock. Leader of the House Liberty Caucus, I can see an effort by allies of McGeehan making a play for him to be speaker, but doubt they could get close to the votes he would need. The Liberty Caucus has been a thorn in the side of House leadership due to their more-Republican-than-you attitude. But it would be smart for whomever wants the gavel to court Liberty Caucus members.

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In closing, before his plea hearing I had the pleasure of meeting former Justice Menis Ketchum. Despite being a few minutes from pleading guilty to felony wire fraud, he was polite, friendly and in good spirits.

Say whatever you want about him, but he still admitted to the crimes he was accused of, resigned and is possibly cooperating in a continuing investigation into state Supreme Court justices. He has done the right thing.

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