CHARLESTON - The West Virginia House of Delegates is taking the extraordinary step of considering the impeachment of all four justices still sitting on the Supreme Court after a fifth justice retired in a scandal over $3.2 million in office renovations.
The Republican-led House was meeting Monday to discuss 14 articles and make recommendations for the four justices. Any articles approved by the House would be tried by the Senate.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a day that none of us really want to be here,” Delegate Tom Fast, a Republican from Kanawha County, said at the start of the session.
Suspended Justice Allen Loughry is under federal indictment and named in eight impeachment articles, including allegations he lied about taking home a $42,000 antique desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch. Other articles involve upgrades of the offices of Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker.
Justice Menis Ketchum retired and agreed to plead guilty to a federal wire fraud count involving the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards.
A special election already is set in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term. After Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice would appoint a replacement for any impeached justice to serve until the 2020 election.
Minority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee where the articles were voted on last week had tried to speed up the impeachment process in the hopes of beating an Aug. 14 deadline for arranging a special election in November if any justice is impeached. Instead, the committee took its time, even conducting a tour of the state Supreme Court offices earlier this month.
Circuit judge Paul T. Farrell has been sworn in to act as the court’s chief justice if the Senate holds a trial on any of the impeachment articles.
Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book chronicling West Virginia political corruption, was indicted in June on 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal law enforcement, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Justice and legislative leaders have asked him to resign. Loughry has not responded and did not testify at the committee hearings.
One impeachment article accuses Loughry of lying to the House Finance Committee in January about his involvement in his Supreme Court office renovations, including a custom-designed wooden-inlay map showing all 55 West Virginia counties embedded in the floor.
Loughry also was cited in separate articles for using state money to frame personal items at his office; the use at his home of state-owned computers and an expensive, antique desk; and using state-owned vehicles for personal use, including over holidays.
Loughry also was cited along with Workman, Davis and Walker for failing to control expenses, including more than $1 million in renovations to their individual offices, and not maintaining policies over matters such as state vehicles, working lunches and the use of office computers at home.
Loughry, Davis and Workman also were cited for authorizing senior status judges to be overpaid in violation of state law.
The committee last week rejected articles that would have cited Walker for paying for an outside counsel to write an opinion for her in 2017, and Workman for hiring a contracted IT employee who previously worked on her campaign.
The last time the Legislature was involved in similar proceedings was 1989, when state Treasurer A. James Manchin was impeached by the House of Delegates after the state lost $279 million invested in the bond market. Manchin, the uncle of current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, resigned before the state Senate took up the impeachment measure. He was never charged and the state recovered $55 million from lawsuits against nine New York brokerage firms involved in the losses.