CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has suspended Justice Allen Loughry without pay while charges of judicial misconduct against him are pending.
The court’s June 8 motion means Loughry, 47, can’t hear any arguments or perform any judicial functions while his case progresses through the court system. Loughry can request a hearing on the motion to suspend his law license, which was issued June 6 in a 32-count Statement of Charges issued by the state’s Judicial Investigation Commission accusing him of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct.
If he objects to the suspension, Loughry has 30 days to object. And if he does object, that sets up only a Supreme Court hearing on the suspension
In its June 6 filing, the JIC claims Loughry violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by making "false statements with the deliberate attempt to deceive, engaged in sophism and gave disinformation with the intent to harm another person.” The JIC statement said it had been investigating Loughry since February.
Teresa Tarr, general counsel for the Judicial Investigation Commission, filed the motion to suspend that recommended that while the case is pending, Loughry's law license should be suspended and he should be suspended from his judicial office without pay.
The other four justices have recused themselves from hearing the matter, and Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit as acting Chief Justice. On June 7, Tabit appointed four other judges to serve as justices in the case. They are Circuit Judges Robert A. Burnside Jr. of Raleigh County, Russell M. Clawges Jr. of Monongalia County, Jennifer P. Dent of Greenbrier County and Senior Status Judge James J. Rowe, also of Greenbrier County.
The state’s Judicial Hearing Board will hear the actual charges against Loughry. He has 30 days from the filing of the statement of charges to file his answer. And while it might be sooner, the hearing must take place within 120 days of the filing of the statement of charges unless both sides agree to an extension.
The charges are linked to Loughry’s denial that he had anything to do with renovations to his state Capitol office that included a $32,000 couch, $1,700 for throw pillows and a $7,500 wooden inlaid medallion in his office floor. The JIC also says Loughry, 47, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct “when he kept secret from other justices” a December 2017 federal subpoena served on the court.
Loughry “personally selected the couch,” the JIC statement of charges says. “He also selected the blue suede fabric covering for the couch and the fabric covering the throw pillows.”
Supreme Court spending has been under scrutiny since November when WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass first detailed other state Supreme Court expenditures. Since 2009, court offices have undergone extensive renovations. The original price tag was about $900,000 for the first round of renovations. But it since has grown to more than $3.7 million and include more areas of renovations.
In addition to the couch and wood inlay in Loughry's office, some of the issues that have drawn the most attention by the media, lawmakers and the public are $28,000 rugs in Justice Robin Jean Davis’s office and $130,000 in renovations to Justice Beth Walker’s office just a few years after it had been renovated when former Justice Brent Benjamin was in office.
“A multitude of state Supreme Court records demonstrate that respondent (Loughry) was heavily involved in the design and renovation of his office,” the statement of charges says. “For example, respondent submitted a rough hand drawing with detailed notes done by him depicting how he would like his office to look upon completion. Importantly, the drawing contained the wooden medallion.”
Then, it was learned Loughry had taken an antique desk associated with famed architect Cass Gilbert from when the state Capitol was first built to his Charleston home.
A Legislative Audit released in April said Loughry and fellow Justice Menis Ketchum drove state vehicles for personal use without properly claiming the perk as a taxable fringe benefit. The legislative audit also valued the desk at $42,000, and said Loughry removing it from the Capitol was another example of using public office for private gain.
The JIC’s statement of charges offers more detail about Loughry’s involvement in the office renovations.
“Respondent (Loughry) also received a detailed estimate of the construction costs for his chambers with an email message scheduling a meeting to go over the estimate. The records reveal that respondent attended the meeting and scheduled a follow-up appointment with the contractor. Respondent was also sent shop drawings for custom wood cabinets and office woodwork with a separate construction estimate. Emails also demonstrate that it was respondent who selected the hardware for his cabinetry.
“He also sent a detailed email message to explain exactly how the inlaid medallion should appear on the floor.”
It says witnesses saw Loughry visit his office on a weekly basis during renovations, and it says he received updates twice a week from an employee of Neighborgall, the contractor that did the work.
“Additionally, former Administrative Director Steve Canterbury informed (Loughry) about the price of the couch with the fabric upgrade because he was concerned about what the public might think if the price were released,” the JIC statement says. “According to Mr. Canterbury, respondent (Loughry) authorized the purchase despite knowing the price.”
Canterbury declined to comment on the JIC charges against Loughry other than to say, ““The Buddha said there are three things that will not remain long hidden: The moon, the sun and the truth.”
The JIC statement also says Loughry lied to WCHS reporter Kennie Bass, West Virginia MetroNews host Hoppy Kercheval and in an opinion piece he wrote himself (which appeared in The West Virginia Record) numerous times about his knowledge of the office renovations and costs.
It also says he made the same false statements to members of the House of Delegates during a Finance Committee hearing about the state Supreme Court budget.
“Lying under oath before a committee of the Legislature constitutes a crime of false swearing,” the JIC statement of charges says.
The JIC says a federal subpoena was served to the state Supreme Court in early December 2017. It says Loughry, former Administrative Director Gary Johnson and former General Counsel for the Administrative Division Christopher Morris knew of the subpoena. But it says Loughry never informed the other justices “even though it may have sought items specific to one or more of the members of the court.”
“Importantly, the justice(s) had a clear right to challenge the subpoena in court,” the statement says.
It says the court received another federal subpoena in February. Again, Loughry – as well as Johnson and Morris – knew of it, according to the JIC. The other justices learned of it on Feb. 16 when Morris “let slip that there had been a previous subpoena.”
“Because of this important development, the other justices lost trust in respondent (Loughry) as Chief Justice and removed him from office later that day by a vote of four to one,” the statement of charges says. “The sole vote for retention came from respondent.”
The JIC says Loughry used the Cass Gilbert desk at the Capitol when he was a law clerk. It also says he had the desk taken to his home in December 2012 without permission from the court and without knowledge of the other justices. It says Loughry and three court employees moved the desk from his house to a court warehouse on Nov. 30, 2017.
“The plan called for respondent’s wife to call him at work after the neighbors across the street left their house so no one would see the desk being moved out of his house,” the JIC statement says. “Once he received the call, respondent rounded up the court employees – all of whom were already at work. The four then went to his house and moved the desk into the court van. They then took the item directly to the warehouse and unloaded it there before returning to work.”
The JIC statement also details a couch that had been owned by former Justice Joseph Albright that Loughry moved to his home for use. It was moved there on June 20, 2013, which is a state holiday commemorating West Virginia’s statehood.
“The blue-green leather couch remained in respondent’s home and was used in or near the living room area from June 20, 2013, until November 28, 2017,” the statement of charges says. “It was the only couch in or near respondent’s living room. Based on information and belief, the blue-green leather couch was never used in respondent’s home office because the room was small and the item could not fit there.”
After a Charleston Gazette-Mail columnist questioned the whereabouts of the couch, Loughry and three court employees loaded it into a court van and moved it to a court warehouse.
“In an effort to hide his wrongdoing, respondent contacted Justice Albright’s widow and son that same day and asked them about the couch,” the JIC statement says. “Respondent, through the court’s public information officer, later informed the press that both family members said they did not want the couch.
“Respondent also said after speaking with the son, ‘He told me he did not want the couch and for me to keep it.’ Respondent also claimed that the blue-green leather couch was ‘abandoned property.’”
The JIC says Loughry failed to follow the tenets of the state’s Uniform Unclaimed Property Act and turn the couch over to the state Treasurer.
“Instead, he improperly converted the property for his own personal use,” the JIC says.
The JIC statement also says Loughry had two desktop computers, a printer and a laptop installed at his house. One of the computers was used primarily by Loughry and his family for personal reasons, according to the statement of charges.
The JIC statement also touches on Loughry’s use of state vehicles.
“Loughry signed one or the other of the cars out for a combined total of 212 days” from Jan. 1, 2013, to September 2016, according to the statement of charges. “According to the reservation system, 148 days failed to list any destination.”
But the statement of charges includes some notations from Loughry’s personal calendar that overlap days he had a state vehicle checked out. Those include book signings, visits to The Greenbrier, a home West Virginia University men’s basketball game against Purdue and trips to his native Tucker County that involved family celebrations, family medical appointments and court hearings.
It says Loughry’s father was named a defendant in a civil action in his native Tucker County.
Loughry “accompanied his father to the hearing,” the JIC statement says. “Based upon information and belief, the plaintiff also appeared for hearing. The Civil Judgment Order dated the same day indicated the claim against respondent’s father was dismissed.”
The JIC statement of charges also discusses Loughry’s 2003 book “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide,” which details West Virginia’s history of political corruption. The JIC calls the book and some of Loughry’s comments in it aggravating factors.
The JIC quotes passages from the book.
“Part of the driving force behind my decision to write this book is the fact that I am so outraged with my state’s political corruption,” Loughry wrote. “The countless disgusting examples of politicians violating the people’s trust are not just embarrassing and disheartening but have completely shattered by confidence in my state’s government. I considered the situation and decided that I had a choice, walk away from any thought of public service, which if performed by honest people is the most noble of all professions, or try in some way to do something about these problems. My choice was to put together the framework for reform for all West Virginians so that together we would be able to regain confidence in the system.”
Loughry also writes that judges should be held to the highest standard of conduct.
“Of all of the criminal politicians in West Virginia, the group that shatters the confidence of the people the most is a corrupt judiciary,” Loughry wrote. “It is essential that people have the absolute confidence in the integrity and impartiality of our system of justice.
“After all, they are the people elected to ensure that objectiveness and fairness prevails when other people break the law. They are also the same people sending many of the executive and legislative branch elected officials to jail for their misgivings. When the soundness of the judiciary is questioned, coupled with the corrupt activities of the other branches of government, how is the public ever to have any faith in state government?”
Loughry was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012, and served as chief justice in 2017. His fellow justices voted him out as chief justice earlier this year. Before his election, he had served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court, including time with current Chief Justice Margaret Workman. Before that, he worked in the state Attorney General's office.