CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court voted Feb. 16 to make Margaret Workman the Chief Justice effective immediately, removing Justice Allen Loughry from the position.
The change in leadership came just hours after a state Senator introduced a resolution asking the House of Delegates to look into impeaching Loughry.
“It’s time to begin what will be a very long process of restoring public respect for the Supreme Court,” Workman said in a statement after the vote was announced.
Workman will serve as Chief Justice through Dec. 31. Loughry remains a member of the Court. No other details of the vote were available immediately.
Loughry also released a statement.
“In 2016, I requested a federal investigation into certain practices and procedures within the Supreme Court,” he said in his statement. “At the time, I was dismayed with those procedures and practices and felt that I had a legal and ethical obligation to contact federal authorities.
“In my opinion, the action taken by the court today is in response to my cooperation with federal authorities. I defer to the federal prosecutor’s office for more information.”
Earlier in the day, Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) introduced the resolution urging the House to “begin an investigation into potential impeachable offenses” by Loughry.
“Loughry oversaw the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on office renovations at a time when the state was in a budget crisis,” the resolution states. “Loughry asserted through media interviews that he had little if any involvement with the decisions related to the office renovations.
“Loughry’s own emails and hand-drawn images recently released by the media through a Freedom of Information Act request show that he was intimately involved with the design and had full knowledge of the expenses associated with the renovation of his office.”
When asked for comment on the resolution, Loughry said he will continue to do his job.
“The Court continues its important work of deciding cases for the citizens of the state of West Virginia,” he said in a statement to The West Virginia Record. “I have previously explained my position as to the expenditures associated with the extensive remodeling of the first, third, and fourth floors of the East Wing of the Capitol.
I will continue to lead the Court in meeting its mission to administer justice for the people of the state.”
Ojeda’s resolution also mentions some of the expenses for Loughry’s office, including $32,000 for a couch and the custom-made wood floor medallion featuring each county set out in a different type of wood and Loughry’s home county set out in blue granite.
“Whereas, there is ample evidence to believe that an investigation into the conduct of Chief Justice Loughry is necessary to determine whether Chief Justice Loughry committed maladministration or neglect of duty in his oversight of the spending at the Supreme Court,” the resolution states. “An investigation by the House of Delegates could potentially lead to evidence that Chief Justice Loughry committed another impeachable offense set forth in … the West Virginia Constitution.”
It also urges the House to act swiftly “upon any credible evidence that Chief Justice Loughry committed an impeachable offense by beginning impeachment proceedings upon a finding of any credible evidence of maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.”
The House of Delegates has the sole power of impeachment, according to the West Virginia Constitution.
Workman was re-elected to the Supreme Court in 2008, and this is her fifth time serving as Chief Justice. The most recent stint was 2015. She previously was elected to the court in 1988, becoming the first woman elected to the court and the first woman elected to statewide office in West Virginia.
She attended West Virginia University and WVU College of Law. In 1981, she became the youngest circuit court judge in the state when then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller appointed her in Kanawha County.