Sentencing set for ex-W.Va. Supreme Court justice
By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice is due in court for sentencing for using a state vehicle and gas fuel card for a golf trip to Virginia.
Ex-Justice Menis Ketchum’s sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday in federal court in Charleston.
The sentencing comes at the end of a yearlong impeachment and corruption scandal involving the Supreme Court that resulted in significant changes to the state’s judicial system, including the five-member court’s makeup.
The 76-year-old Ketchum pleaded guilty last year to a felony fraud count. His attorney is seeking probation.
The charge was related to a 400-mile trip in 2014 where Ketchum used a state-owned car to drive from his home in Huntington to a private golf club near Bristol, Virginia, using a state credit card to refuel. Court documents show Ketchum traveled to the club from 2011 through 2014.
Ketchum retired in July before the House of Delegates impeached other Supreme Court justices over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. Some of the justices were accused of abusing their authority by failing to rein in excessive spending.
A temporary panel of justices later ruled the impeachment efforts violated the separation-of-powers doctrine and that the Legislature lacked jurisdiction to pursue the trials. The process was officially derailed when the presiding judge didn’t show up to one of the justice’s impeachment trials in the state Senate because of the decision.
The House is seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review in order to correct what it called legal errors in the decision. The state constitution gives the Legislature the sole power of impeachment. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw has said the earlier opinion “removes virtually all of the constitutional checks and balances we have on the judicial branch of government.”
Another former justice at the center of the scandal, Allen Loughry, was sentenced last month to two years in federal prison for using his job for his own benefit and lying to investigators. Loughry was suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.
State lawmakers and others have said public trust in the state’s court system was broken by the actions of Loughry and others. Voters in November approved a ballot measure allowing the GOP-led Legislature to decide each year whether to reduce the courts’ budget.
Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016, but the court’s impeachment scandal stirred political attacks. Some Democrats argued the court’s shake-up was a power grab by Republicans.
Justice Robin Davis retired after the impeachment charges were announced. Two Republican former lawmakers were appointed in the place of Ketchum and Davis and later won election to complete their terms. Republican Gov. Jim Justice appointed a lifelong friend to replace Loughry until a 2020 special election.