CHARLESTON – An expert on judicial ethics says the allegations against state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry are hypocritical, duplicitous and tawdry.
He also says Loughry should resign.
“This is an extremely serious case,” said Charles Geyh, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. “It’s almost a classic Watergate-style problem. If the allegations are true, you have the original misconduct being bad in its own right, and then you have the cover-up being even worse.”
Loughry, 47, was named June 6 in a 32-count Statement of Charges by the Judicial Investigation Commission. 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.” On June 8, the state Supreme Court suspended Loughry without pay while the charges of judicial misconduct against him are pending.
Geyh, who teaches and writes about judicial conduct, said the average person might look at the allegations against Loughry and say it’s bad. But he said it also must be put into context with the Code of Judicial Conduct. He said it seems the JIC did a thorough job of doing that.
“Judges are under a duty to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary,” said Geyh, who has written several books about the topic in addition to serving as an expert witness in a U.S. Senate impeachment of a federal judge. “Taking stuff and lying about taking stuff … you’re looking at calling your integrity into question.
“As a judge, you have to follow the law, and you can’t have a scofflaw as a judge.”
Geyh mentioned the charge that Loughry took an antique desk and a couch from the state Supreme Court to use at his home. Both later were returned. “Misappropriating furniture in ways that violate law, then denying you’ve done it and conceal it … At the core, that is an awful integrity issue,” Geyh said. “If all of the charges are true, that’s a level of hypocrisy and duplicity that I haven’t seen.”
Geyh also talked about the money used to furnish and update Loughry’s office at the state Capitol, mentioning the $32,000 couch, $1,700 worth of throw pillows and the $7,500 wooden medallion floor inlay of the state of West Virginia.
“The business of furnishing your office with opulence isn’t unprecedented. But even if the money is there, it’s still poor judgment.”
Geyh compared it to when current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was accused of furnishing his office in similar fashion when he was a First Circuit judge.
“It isn’t an ethical dilemma, just a judgment problem,” Geyh said. “Who would think it’s OK to take antique furniture for personal use? He’s exploiting his position as judge to take stuff for his own use. It’s really quite tawdry.
“I try my best to see both sides in situations like this, but it seems to me that there is no other side. It seems to me that the reality of it is that the committee nailed it. If they have evidentiary support, which they seem to do, they have him dead to rights.”
Geyh noted the recent history of the West Virginia Supreme Court that include the Caperton v. Massey case and the ensuing drama involving the recusal of former Justice Brent Benjamin, the controversy surrounding pictures of late Justice Spike Maynard vacationing with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship in the French Riviera and the drama involving the sale of a Lear Jet by Justice Robin Jean Davis’ husband to an attorney with a case before the court.
‘The West Virginia Supreme Court has had more than its share of trouble the last 10 to 15 years,” Geyh said. “Frankly, it’s a laughingstock because of the problems it’s had. And there is no excuse for that.
“I don’t know if it’s an institutional culture or what, but I think the timing of this makes it all the more serious. They need to take swift and certain action, and they already have suspended him without pay.”
Geyh also said that if the allegations are true, it’s problematic that Loughry continues to deny the charges.
“If I am a reader of yours, it usually isn’t as simple as saying you shouldn’t steal stuff and lie about it or taking a long term loan without authorization,” he said. “When he’s denying all of it, remember there is a provision in the code of conduct that basically says you shall cooperate with investigative authorities.
“You’ve got a duty to follow the law. You’ve got a duty to be honest and forthright. In this case, there are so many episodes and detail, I’m not sure it needs to be more complicated than that. You don’t see this kind of misconduct much anymore. It reminds me of Huey B. Long and the corrupt machine politicians of the early 20th century.”
Geyh said he thinks Loughry should do the right thing and resign soon.
“I don’t know West Virginia politics as well as you or others, so I don’t have a basis for comparison,” Geyh said. “But, I’d predict he’ll step down in the next few days. It’s all coming to a head.
“If he resigns, he can maintain the argument and claim his innocence but say he’s stepping down for the common good of the state, the court and the judiciary.”