Judicial hustle

by The West Virginia Record |
Jan. 16, 2009, 3:25am

Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King doesn't want to talk about how he found a legal loophole to rip off the taxpayers and enrich himself.

We don't blame him.

When it's your job to serve as a trusted arbiter of disputes between others who put their fates in your hands, the last thing you'd want is for word to get out that, when the robes come off, you play the legal angles for cash.

Judge King "retired" last October after 20 years on the bench. He sent in a resignation letter to Gov. Joe Manchin. It sounded sincere.

"I am deeply grateful to the people of Kanawha County for having afforded me the opportunity and honor to serve as Circuit Judge of Kanawha County for the last twenty years," he wrote.

It's enough to make one misty-eyed. But now we know that heart-tugging Hallmark moment was a hustle, a legal hustle.

King retired in October and won re-election in November. Now he's back on the bench -- collecting his judicial salary and his pension at the same time.

That was the cash-point of the letter. It enabled King to double-dip on West Virginia taxpayer coffers, gaming our state pension system so he can work and collect a pension at the same time.

Indeed, Judge King cynically knew what his future would bring.

King's 'legal' ploy -- retire and then rejoin the bench two months later -- lets him "earn" a taxpayer-supported paychecks of up to $188,000 per year. You can buy a lot of fancy robes with that.

Called on the carpet for his similar subterfuge, Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson was quick to note that his deal is "perfectly legal," arguing that since he paid into the pension system, he's just collecting what is rightfully his.

Not quite. State pension plans never were intended to fund accelerated lifestyles of state employees who aren't retired from the state. His actions may be legal, but Judge King must know that if everyone in state government followed his lead, the system quickly would become insolvent.

A judge sworn to uphold the law should not violate the spirit of the law. Judge King's action seem to say where there's a will, there's a way. Where there's a way, there's an angle.

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