The first of four scheduled impeachment trials, this one concerning Justice Beth Walker, began at 9 a.m. today in the Senate chamber.
The proceedings began with acting Chief Justice Paul T. Farrell giving the senators, who are acting as the jury in the court of impeachment, instructions. He directed them to remain impartial, stay off social media, and refrain from discussing the facts of the case among one another prior to the deliberations portion of the trial.
Farrell quickly denied Walker’s motion to dismiss the impeachment charge against her.
Walker was the first witness to testify. She fielded questions from House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, who is presenting the House’s case on behalf of the House Managers. A portion of Shott’s line of questioning focused on working lunches brought in for justices and staff on days when the court heard cases or met to discuss opinions and other court business.
Walker reiterated multiple times that she regrets participating in the lunches, but does not view them as illegal. Walker also noted that she promptly paid back one-fifth of the expenses related to the lunches for 2017, her first year on the court.
When asked about hiring outside counsel to write an opinion for her, Walker testified that she was working with two law clerks rather than the standard practice four, and that one of those two was on maternity leave. She instructed the court to hire Barbara Allen, who now is the court’s administrative director, to write the opinion for her at a cost of $10,000. Walker testified her staff costs were lower than any of the other justices.
Shott also asked Walker about the $130,000 renovation to her office that came only a few years after former Justice Brent Benjamin had spent $264,000 remodeling the same space. Walker expressed regret for the remodel, saying she should have reassessed the project.
During his opening statements, Walker’s attorney Mike Hissam, argued his client “did not engage in any conduct that would justify the extraordinary remedy of removing her from office against the will of the voters.”
Hissam also argued that Article of Impeachment XIV, the only article Walker is charged with, is confusing. He called it "everything and nothing" and referred to it as "a catch-all mishmash of all sorts of administrative practices, many of which Beth never had anything to do with."
In discussing impeachment under cross examination from Hissam, Walker said she views impeachable offenses as stealing, lying and corruption. She contends she never engaged in any of that behavior.
Other witnesses for the House Managers included: Justin Robinson, Director of the Post Audits Division for the West Virginia Legislature, Sue Racer-Troy, the CFO for the WV Supreme Court of Appeals, and JB McCuskey, State Auditor of West Virginia.
The House Managers have one additional witness scheduled to testify tomorrow at 9 a.m. Following that testimony, the defense will put on its case.
The Senate and the Impeachment Court have adjourned until tomorrow at 9 a.m.