Updated: West Virginia Senators Acquit Justice Beth Walker on Impeachment Charge
CHARLESTON – On day two of her impeachment trial, members of the West Virginia Senate decided that Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker should not be convicted of the lone article of impeachment for which she was charged.
After nearly two hours of deliberation behind closed doors Tuesday, the Senate voted 32-1 in favor of not convicting Walker, the justice with the shortest tenure on the court. Only Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, voted to convict. Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was absent due to a prior commitment.
“I want to point out to the people of West Virginia that we did this the right way,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “We listened to the evidence and we made the decision that it did not rise to the level of impeachment.”
“This is a partisan body. We have Democrats and Republicans here, but if you saw the vote, it’s about as overwhelming as it gets short of being unanimous,” said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio. “There was a strong case in favor of Justice Walker saying there just wasn’t adequate evidence to impeach her.”
Senators heard from only one witness Tuesday morning. Mike McKown, the former director of the State Budget Office, testified about the condition of West Virginia’s finances during the time period when justices were spending more than $3.4 million on extravagant expenses.
Walker was charged in one article of impeachment along with all the justices at the time – Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry and former justice Robin Davis – with having no policies governing spending and use of state resources for personal use.
Ferns introduced a motion from the floor to censure Walker for her actions that contributed to the 11 articles of impeachment adopted by the House of Delegates Aug. 13. The censure resolution passed by voice vote with no discussion.
An earlier effort Sept. 11 by House impeachment managers and attorneys to drop the impeachment articles against Walker and Chief Justice Margaret Workman and adopt a censure resolution against the justices was ruled out of order because senators had yet to hear the evidence.
“No time in history has a jury ever been part of a plea agreement,” said Senate Majority Whip Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “That’s what the managers wanted us to do in the beginning, but we could not do that. We had to hear the facts.”
“There was an effort some people wanted to make to have an article of censureship adopted prior to ever hearing the evidence,” Carmichael said. “That would have exonerated (Walker) from any potential of impeachment. We didn’t do that.”
During closing statements, impeachment manager John Shott reminded senators about Walker’s answers regarding catered working lunches paid for by the taxpayers with state purchasing cards. Shott argues that the lunches violate the State Ethics Act and the constitutional cap on justice salaries.
“As hard I tried, I was unable to get Justice Walker to admit that there was anything wrong with this practice,” Shott said. “The best I could get from her was it wasn’t illegal.”
Shott pointed out that while Walker did pay back a fifth of the cost of the lunches, it didn’t happen until a Freedom of Information Act request was made for the cost of the lunches and Walker asked to be told the cost before the FOIA was sent.
“It was significant for her to make sure that was done before the information was provided in connection with the FOIA request,” Shott said. “One of my favorite statements is the true measure of a character is what you do when no one is looking. Now we see someone was looking.”
Mike Hissam, counsel for Walker, gave a closing statement encouraging the Senate to pay close attention to the documents entered into evidence. Hissam told senators to pay attention to what Walker did starting when she took office in January 2017.
“She was a single lone justice in the minority,” Hissam said. “She was never chief justice.”
Hissam placed much of the blame for spending and policies on prior chief justices and the court administrators. He also said Walker tried to fight against pay raises voted on by the court, but was outvoted.
“When she resisted the raises in judicial conference, she was outvoted,” Hissam said. “She was saying we shouldn’t do this.”
Walker was named, along with Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry and former justice Robin Davis, in one of 11 articles of impeachment adopted by the House of Delegates on Aug. 13. Walker, who left the Senate chamber shortly after the verdict, was unavailable for comment.
The next justice scheduled to be tried by the Senate is Workman on Oct. 15, followed by Davis on Oct. 29 and Loughry on Nov. 12.