Today in the Legislature

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - 01:48 AM

House Adopts Articles of Impeachment Against State Supreme Court Justices

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

The House gaveled in at 10 a.m. and introduced House Resolution 202, regarding the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices. Delegates approved a motion to divide the question and debated, amended and voted on the articles separately.

In Monday’s hearings, the House adopted 11 of 14 Articles of Impeachment-- rejecting one and withdrawing two articles. Of the adopted articles, suspended Justice Allen Loughry was named in seven, Justice Robin Davis in four, Chief Justice Margaret Workman in three, and Justice Beth Walker in one— which included articles that individually focused on particular justices and some that combined them.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum resigned and was not part of impeachment proceedings. Ketchum faces a charge under a federal information and Loughry faces several charges in a federal indictment.  

In a 64-33 vote, the House adopted Article 1, regarding Loughry’s $386,000 office renovation. This included the purchase of a $32,000 couch, $1,700 throw pillows, and $33,750 on a new floor including a West Virginia county medallion.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, made an amendment to censure Loughry instead of impeach—a motion he made for similar renovations-related articles for other justices. However, Fast’s amendment was defeated.

House Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said there was evidence presented of a plan to spend down a $29 million reserve that the state Supreme Court had accumulated between 2007 and 2010 because of a concern that the Senate would present a constitutional amendment to take back budget control of the state’s highest court. The Legislature adopted such an amendment during the last legislative session, which will go to voters in the upcoming election.

Shott said he felt the expenditure was “an irresponsible spending of taxpayer money and certainly a betrayal of trust.”

In a 56-41 vote, the House also adopted Article 2, which focused on Davis’ renovations. The article said Davis spent a total of $500,000, which included the purchase of a $20,000 oval rug, an $8,000 desk chair and $23,000 in design services.

Shott said he was shocked by Davis’ office.

“It was shocking,” Shott said. “It was like a Star Trek set.”

Those who opposed this article and similar ones dealing with renovations, expressed concerns that spending doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

“If you go after spending, you’re going to have to start impeaching Board of Public Works members to be consistent,” Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton said, later adding. “Punishment should meet the crime. This spending makes you want to barf but there are other remedies than going down this rabbit hole.”

A few articles against Loughry passed unanimously. One, Article 3, dealt with Loughry taking home a Cass Gilbert desk, valued at around $42,000, which he kept at his home for more than four years.

The House also unanimously adopted Article 8—which said Loughry reserved state vehicles without providing destinations and used a state vehicle and state gas card to drive to book signings at The Greenbrier— and Article 9, which said Loughry used state computers for personal use at home.

In a 94-2 vote, the House also adopted Article 10, which said Loughry made false statements under oath before the House Finance Committee where he denied involvement in his renovations.

Three articles concerned the overpayment of senior status judges. Article 4, against Workman and Davis, said when both served as chief justice, they approved contracts resulting in the overpayment of senior status judges. There was debate on the clarity of the statute. Those who supported the article said state law prevents senior status judges from being paid more than a sitting judge when also taking into account retirement.

However, Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, said the argument was flawed because Davis and Workman did not personally benefit from the action.

“The only person guilty would be the judges if they made false representations to get that,” he said, later adding. “As a prosecutor, I would have to treat this as we’ve said many times, as an indictment. This wouldn’t pass a motion to dismiss in criminal court.”

The House adopted Article 4 in a 62-34 vote.

Three other articles—Article 5-7—also focused on the overpayment of senior status judges but individually focused on Davis, Workman, and Loughry, respectively. The House adopted all three with a 61-35 vote for Article 5, 63-34 vote for Article 6, and 51-45 for Article 7.

The House withdrew Article 11, which said Loughry used state funds to pay for the framing of personal items.

The House rejected Article 12 regarding Walker’s office renovations, which totaled $131,000. Shott asked the chamber to adopt the article, saying Walker’s office was renovated over a seven-year time when former Justice Brent Benjamin was in office. This article was rejected in a 44-51 vote.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, objected to the article, saying Walker’s spending did not compare to others.

“Some of the furniture purchased—you could buy multiple pieces before you could buy the one couch in the earlier article,” Cowles said. “This is a fraction of the spending in the Davis impeachment article, which was $500,000, and it is a fraction, perhaps a third of the spending in the Loughry article of impeachment. I do have an issue if we add in Benjamin’s spending and remodeling over a seven-year period. You can’t hold Justice Walker responsible for remodeling done over seven years ago.”

Following the rejection of Article 12, Shott moved to withdraw Article 13, which focused on Workman’s renovations, which totaled $111,000. Shott’s motion to withdraw was approved.

The House adopted Article 14, against all remaining justices, saying justices failed to adopt travel policies, report taxable fringe benefits including vehicle use and regular lunches on their W-2s, provide supervision of state purchasing cards, provide supervision over record keeping with state vehicles, provide supervision of state property, and failed to provide supervision over purchasing procedures.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, made a motion to remove Walker from the article but the House rejected this motion.

After recessing until 12:15 a.m., the House took up an amendment proposed by Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley. Folk’s amendment proposed a new article against Walker for hiring outside counsel to craft a legal opinion of the court at a cost of $10,000.

During last week’s House Judiciary Committee, members rejected a similar article. Folk’s amendment was rejected in a 26-70 vote.

The House also introduced House Resolution 203, recommending public reprimand and censure of all remaining state Supreme Court justices.  This resolution was adopted in a 95-1 vote.

The House introduced House Resolution 204, which recommended censure of Ketchum and former Justice Brent Benjamin. This was referred to House Judiciary.

The House also introduced House Bill 201, which provided for the special election of state Supreme Court justices when a vacancy has occurred as the result of impeachment. Sponaugle moved to suspend the constitutional rules to take the bill up for immediate consideration. Cowles moved to table that motion, which was approved. This bill was referred to House Judiciary. 

Today in the Legislature is a daily synopsis of legislative activities maintained by the West Virginia Legislature's Office of Reference & Information.


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