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West Virginia Impeaches Supreme Court

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West Virginia Impeaches Supreme Court

West Virginia Impeaches Supreme Court
August 20
16:54 2018

In a move unprecedented in the United States, the West Virginia House of Delegates impeached all four members of the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals: Margaret Workman (D), Allen Loughry (R), Robin Davis (D), and Elizabeth Walker (R). All are charged with what amounts to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of state funds.

The four judges came under official scrutiny after reports last year that they had spent more than $3 MILLION to redecorate their offices. All four judges have now been charged with extravagant spending on office renovations. Loughry, Workman, and Davis were cited specifically for overpaying retired senior status judges to preside over cases.

Even though West Virginia Democrats claim this extreme action is a Republican conspiracy to replace the ousted judges with more conservative counterparts, the impeached parties represent both major American political parties. Republicans do lead the legislators, however.

And now, Republican Governor Jim Justice (a former Democrat) may indeed opt to appoint successor judges who hold a more rightward-leaning viewpoint.

West Virginia House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington(R) issued a press release detailing the charges. The eleven articles of impeachment include wasteful spending, bad administration, incompetency, neglect of duty, and potentially criminal behavior. Overington, who presided over the impeachment proceedings, said:

“This is one of the saddest days in my 34 years in the Legislature. It has become clear that our Supreme Court has breached the public trust and lost the confidence of our citizens. This somber action today is an essential step toward restoring the integrity of our state’s highest court.”

The West Virginia House also passed a resolution to reprimand publicly and censure each of the four judges for their alleged misconduct.

The four justices are charged with creating a culture of abuse and misuse of state resources by failing to adopt and maintain policies regarding property like money, cars, computers, and furniture. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott(R) issued a statement on August 14, explaining how committee findings led to the impeachments:

“Unfortunately, as we pursued the evidence, it became clear that the state Supreme Court has been overcome by a culture of entitlement and cavalier indifference with regard to the spending of taxpayer money. This has resulted in the public’s loss of confidence in the state’s highest court which must be repaired.”

Margaret Workman is the first woman in West Virginia history to be elected to the state’s highest court. She was elected chief justice in February 2018, replacing Justice Allen Loughry. Workman left the court in 2000 after one term. She was re-elected to the court in November 2008. Now, she faces impeachment charges that she spent $111,000 of taxpayer money to do an office make-over.

Allen Loughry was elected to the court on November 6, 2012, for a term that began in January 2013. His twelve-year term would have ended in December 2024. The articles of impeachment accuse him of wasting in excess of $363,000 of taxpayer funds on office renovations, including a $32,000 couch! He is also charged with misuse of government vehicles and computer equipment, taking state property (a desk) home, and lying to questions about his alleged wrongdoing posed by the state’s House Finance Committee.

Robin Davis was elected to the court in a partisan election in 1996 and re-elected in 2000. She served as chief justice of the court in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2014. She is being impeached for allegedly spending $500,000 – that’s half a MILLION dollars – to renovate her office.

Elizabeth Walker ran for a seat on the court in 2008 as a Republican, but a law passed in 2015 by the West Virginia Legislature made judicial elections nonpartisan. She was elected to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia on May 10, 2016, becoming the first Justice elected in a non-partisan race, and took office on January 1, 2017. Walker allegedly spent $131,000 to remodel her office.

The morning after her impeachment was announced, on August 14, 2018, Robin Davisheld a news conference:
“The majority members have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court. They have erased the lines of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences. The will of the people of West Virginia is being denied. I just cannot allow the finalizing of this plot to come to fruition.”

The West Virginia state Senate will now set trial for the impeachment charges on an as-yet-undetermined future date. The State Constitution mandates that two-thirds of the state’s senators vote to remove a justice from office. If found guilty, the four justices will be removed from office with a permanent ban from entering elections to public office in the state.

Davis retired officially on August 13, 85 days before the 2018 fall election. Her interim replacement will serve until a permanent replacement is elected by voters this fall.

Chief Justice Workman and Justice Walker each released statements that they do not intend to resign from the court. Workman said:

“I am not resigning, either from the court or my position as chief justice. There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do.”
Davis is not the first West Virginian justice to step down before facing impeachment charges in order to avoid the legal process and consequences of bad behavior in an elected office. Menis Ketchum(D) announced his resignation on July 11, one day before the House Judiciary Committee convened for hearings to consider impeaching the justices. He has agreed to a guilty plea to a federal criminal charge of one count of wire fraud for misusing state vehicles, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart (R) said last month. Ketchum’s plea hearing is scheduled for August 23.

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission has not issued any formal charges other than the impeachments to Davis, Workman, and Walker. But Loughry has been on suspension since June 8, pending official charges. But that’s not all, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

“Loughry now is the subject of 25 federal charges in the new indictment in which prosecutors allege he used a state vehicle to travel Tucker County for a court hearing for his father and that he used his state-issued credit card to purchase gas for personal travel.”

Loughry now faces seventeen counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of making false statements to federal investigators, one count of witness tampering and one count of obstruction of justice. In a stunning twist of irony, Loughry published a 2006 book about political corruption in West Virginia.
All the articles of impeachment are available on the West Virginia Legislature” website.

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1 Comment

  1. Rik
    Rik August 21, 23:51

    When it happens to SCOTUS someone will have to. Wake up around 5 of the justices and explain that they are done.

    Reply to this comment

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