West Virginia House Votes To Impeach All 4 State Supreme Court Justices

Aug 13, 2018
Originally published on August 14, 2018 11:08 am

Updated at 10:25 a.m. ET Tuesday

West Virginia's House of Delegates voted to impeach all four justices on the state's Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday.

Three of them, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Allen Loughry and Elizabeth Walker, now face impeachment trials in the state Senate.

The fourth, Justice Robin Davis, announced her retirement on Tuesday, just hours after her impeachment. A fifth justice on the court resigned before impeachment proceedings began.

Workman, Loughry, Walker and Davis have all been impeached for failing to carry out their administrative duties. Loughry, Workman and Davis also were impeached for paying retired senior status judges more than the law allowed.

Davis and Loughry were impeached for the use of state money to renovate their offices — but Walker and Workman, who spent less on renovations than their colleagues, were cleared of impeachment charges over the expenses.

Loughry was also impeached for using state vehicles and computers.

All told, 11 articles of impeachment were adopted.

Loughry was the first to be impeached Monday. After two hours of debate, an article of impeachment against him was approved in a matter of seconds, by a final vote of 64-33. The tally easily exceeded the 51 votes needed to go forward with trial proceedings.

Any justices who are impeached in the House are then tried in the Senate, with lawmakers from the upper chamber serving as jurors and deciding whether to remove the justices from office.

The votes came one week after the state House Judiciary Committee approved 14 articles of impeachment against the four justices who currently sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals, accusing the judges of "maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty." They came under fire last year, when it was reported that they had spent more than $3 million to renovate their offices.

Loughry also is facing a federal criminal case, after a grand jury indicted him in June on fraud and a number of other charges, including misuse of a state vehicle and moving an expensive desk from his Capitol office to his home.

The 14 articles are listed in House Resolution 202. Article I, targeting Loughry, was the first to come up for a vote Monday, following debate that focused on a lack of an official definition for "maladministration," as well as broader issues of the separation of powers between branches of state government.

Article I calls out Loughry for using state money to buy a nearly $32,000 couch and a decorative floor inlay for almost $34,000 — part of approximately $363,000 he spent to renovate his office.

Davis spent more than $500,000 on renovating her office.

Walker spent $131,000 on office renovations, and Workman spent $111,000; neither was ultimately impeached over their renovations.

As the House discussed impeaching Loughry and the other justices, an amendment was introduced that would have recommended censure rather than removal from office. It was soundly rejected, with only five votes in favor.

The outcome of the impeachment effort could allow West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — a former Democrat who is now a Republican — to appoint the majority of the justices on the state's highest court. The state has a deadline of 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday to trigger a special election for any vacancies on the high court's bench. After that, any open seats would be filled by appointment, with the new justices serving until the next regular election.

By law, West Virginia has five Supreme Court justices, who serve 12-year terms. But Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July, announcing his retirement just before the first impeachment proceedings were to begin. Ketchum's seat will be filled by special election this November.

In 2015, West Virginia's Supreme Court elections became nonpartisan. But all of the current justices have previously run for office on behalf of the two main parties. Loughry won office as a Republican, and Walker ran as a Republican in 2008 before she was elected in a nonpartisan vote in 2016. Workman, Davis and Ketchum were elected as Democrats.

You can follow the impeachment proceedings via a live blog from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The House debate is also being streamed on YouTube.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today the West Virginia House of Delegates holds the fate of that state's Supreme Court in its hands. Legislators are deciding whether or not to impeach all four remaining state Supreme Court justices. The allegations - lavish spending on court office renovations, the personal use of state vehicles, computers and furniture and the overpayment of other judges. So far today, the delegates have voted to impeach three Supreme Court justices. Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting is here to fill us in on the latest. Hey there, Dave.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So what have you learned? What's going on at the statehouse now?

MISTICH: Well, we started the day with 14 proposed articles of impeachment. They have adopted 10 of those. One article has been withdrawn. They - the House of Delegates just took a break. They'll be back at 8:15. I'll give you a quick rundown, though, on some of the articles that have been adopted. They target Justices Davis, Loughry and Workman, all three about their overpayment of senior-status judges.

A lot of those articles target Justice Allen Loughry for his personal use of state vehicles, computers. He took some furniture home with him. But right now we're waiting on the House and all those lawmakers to come back into the chamber at 8:15 Eastern to take up an article against the fourth justice, who is Beth Walker. And that one deals with her spending on court office renovations, which the other three have already been impeached over.

CORNISH: I understand the allegations, but how did we get to this point?

MISTICH: Well, this all started with these reports of lavish spending that came out late last year. There was the discovery of a couch and a historic desk that was selected by one of the capitol - the capitol architect Cass Gilbert. That was found in Justice Loughry's home. This whole deal was discussed as early as January by House Democrats, particularly Mike Pushkin. He's a delegate from Kanawha County. He had called for the investigation of impeachment way back then. The session ended in March. They waited until the governor called a special session in June. They authorized the investigation of impeachment.

The House has been spending over a month and a half at this point hearing evidence and testimony. And I should point out that just before the investigation kicked off, the fifth state Supreme Court justice, Menis Ketchum - he resigned from the court in late July before any of these articles of impeachment were introduced. So he hasn't been the subject of this investigation, but the other four have.

CORNISH: The impeachment process has taken upwards of a month, but tomorrow is an important deadline. What's going to happen?

MISTICH: Right, so the governor could appoint the entire Supreme Court. All this comes down to a vacancy deadline at midnight tomorrow. So if there is a vacancy on the bench either by removal from office, which isn't likely going to happen because a trial would have to take place in the state Senate to convict and remove a justice from office - so if it would happen by resignation by midnight tomorrow night, the voters would get to decide, you know?

I should point out that the voters of West Virginia already get to decide the state's Supreme Court justices. So all this comes down to midnight tomorrow whether or not there will be appointments that will allow for someone to be appointed and hold onto the bench until the next election, which is in 2020, or whether or not the governor - or whether or not the voters will decide whether or not these - who the justice will be.

CORNISH: So what's at stake then if the governor decides to make these appointments?

MISTICH: Well, you know, the governor has interests - a lot of business interests in coal. You know, the abortion issue has come up in West Virginia quite often. The Republican legislature took a look at that quite a bit in the last session. So there's a lot of different issues that could be decided by this court.

CORNISH: That's West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Dave Mistich. Dave, thank you.

MISTICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.