West Virginia Moves to Impeach Its Entire Supreme Court
[guest post by JVW]
Well now, this is the first I have heard of this: legislators in West Virginia are set to vote on articles of impeachment for their entire remaining state supreme court. Let’s turn to Fox News for the details:
The [state’s House Judiciary] [C]ommittee filed 14 articles of impeachment against the four judges on Tuesday, and they will now go to the full House of Delegates for a vote.
The articles allege the justices – Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Allen Loughry, Robin Davis and Elizabeth Walker – have engaged in corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, maladministration and certain high crimes.
The justices are also accused of “wasteful spending of taxpayer funds on lavish office renovations,” using public vehicles for personal matters and creating a plan to pay certain senior judges more than is lawful, the committee said.
[. . . ]
Aside from the articles of impeachment, Loughry was previously suspended for allegedly repeatedly lying about using his office for personal gain. He pleaded not guilty in federal court in June to multiple counts involving alleged fraud.
His trial is expected to begin in early October. If convicted, he faces up to 395 years in prison and $5.5 million in fines.
[. . . ]
Normally, West Virginia has five Supreme Court justices who are elected to serve a 12-year term, NPR reported.
However, Menis E. Ketchum resigned from the state Supreme Court in July after he was accused of alleged federal wire fraud. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of defrauding the state and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to WSAZ-TV.
West Virginia Democrats are skeptical of this action, believing it has largely been undertaken in order to allow Republican Governor Jim Justice to replace the four jurists (the one who resigned will be replaced in the November election). Justices for the Supreme Court of Appeals in the Mountaineer State are elected to twelve-year terms. Justices Workman (term expires in 2020) and Davis (term expires in 2024) are both Democrats; Justice Loughry (term expires in 2024) is a Republican; and Justice Walker (term expires in 2028) was elected with no party preference, though she had previously run as a Republican. Former Justice Ketchum, whose term was set to expire in 2020, was elected as a Democrat.
The articles of impeachment are spelled out here. Loughry comes off the worst in them, as noted in the Fox article, while the other three are accused largely of wasting taxpayer money on their offices with Davis and Workman also standing accused of agreeing to overpay semi-retired judges on senior status. It appears that Walker is kind of caught up in the maelstrom, with the only complaint against her being wasting money on office renovations, which would seem like small potatoes in the state that celebrates the wasteful spending of Senator Robert Byrd. A local media source, WV MetroNews, reports that the sums spent for office renovations range from over $500,000 by Chief Justice Davis to a little over $110,000 by Justice Workman. It’s worth noting that the optics of this lavish spending look pretty bad in light of a two-week strike for higher wages by the state’s teachers this past spring.
The issue of these justices’ continued employment will be brought to the WV House chamber on Monday. On the one hand, I find impeachment and removal to be a very serious matter, especially when the legislative branch targets the judicial branch. On the other hand, we’ve had plenty of examples of judges who operate as if they are accountable to nothing other than their own whims and desires, so every once in a while it is probably good to let them know that they can’t just get away with everything all of the time.