CHARLESTON – State government and legal leaders again are calling for suspended Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry to resign after a 22-count federal criminal indictment against him was unsealed.
“I mainly fee saddened,” said former state Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Canterbury, who was fired by Loughry shortly after he became Chief Justice in 2017. “It’s a tragic day for the state and the court because of all of the damage he’s caused.”
Canterbury also has been blamed by Loughry for decisions regarding the excessive spending on renovations and refurbishing of state Supreme Court offices.
“Do I feel vindicated? People have asked me that. I was in that job for 11 years. I feel wed to that institution. It’s like seeing your child harmed. I feel he’s damaged the court. So, I feel grief. But there is a certain satisfaction that people are seeing the Allen Loughry that I came to know. Still, it’s bittersweet.”
Loughry, 47, was arrested early on June 20 – West Virginia Day – after being named in a 22-count indictment from a federal grand jury. Included were 16 counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, three counts of making false statements and one count of witness tampering.
The president of a group for state trial lawyers said the group is disappointed and concerned about Loughry’s alleged criminal conduct.
“While he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to federal agents are serious corruption charges," said Stephen P. New, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. “No individual is above the law. Those in public office, especially our judges, should be held to the highest standards of ethics and professional conduct.
“West Virginia voters put their confidence in Justice Loughry when they elected him to our state’s highest court. If these allegations are found to be true, it’s not just his criminal conduct that’s troubling. It is his total disrespect and disregard for the people who elected him.”
New said restoring full public confidence in West Virginia’s highest court and its justices must be a priority.
“The West Virginia Supreme Court must resume its critical role and serious work with no further distractions,” he said. “WVAJ believes that Justice Loughry should resign immediately. In addition, federal officers should continue their thorough investigation to ensure that there are no further issues.”
Gov. Jim Justice repeated his call for Loughry to resign.
"The federal indictment of Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry today saddens me," Justice said. "This casts another shadow of negativity on West Virginia, which is certainly something we just plain don’t need. Justice Loughry should immediately resign from office and spare our state any further embarrassment.
"So many elected officials throughout West Virginia’s history have chosen to do things that are unethical and self-centered. Politicians today are too concerned with getting re-elected and end up doing things that only benefit themselves. We need to change that. We need people in government who genuinely want to serve the people of our state and aren’t concerned with their own self-interest.
"It’s incredibly sad on the 155th birthday of our Great State that we have to face this issue, but West Virginians should not let these actions by a public official damage their confidence in our state. We are on the move, no matter what anybody says. There are so many great things happening in West Virginia, and I will continue to work every day to move our state forward."
Justice first called for the resignation last week after Loughry was named on 32 charges by the state Judicial Investigation Commission and suspended by the state Supreme Court. Justice said he’s open to calling for a special legislative session to impeach Loughry if necessary.
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also weighed in.
“The news from United States Attorney Mike Stuart this morning regarding Justice Loughry is very troubling,” Carmichael said. “As citizens review the facts and case against Justice Loughry we must all remember that, until proven guilty, the American system of justice presumes the innocence of those accused of crimes. There is an established system in place to adjudicate and fairly resolve this matter.
“Nevertheless, the confidence and workmanship in the judicial branch of government must be held to the highest standards of propriety and respect. Therefore, Justice Loughry should immediately resign his position as Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The opportunity to defend himself against these serious allegations should not be conducted from his current role as Justice.
“Furthermore, the Court must work diligently to rebuild the public’s trust that citizens deserve from the highest court in our state. May we all pray for a fair, judicious, prompt resolution to this unfortunate event.”
House Speaker Tim Armstead said he's saddened and disappointed.
"I am deeply troubled by these allegations and believe my fellow West Virginians are as well," Armstead said. "Under the legal process in our nation and state, Justice Loughry will be afforded due process as the case against him is prosecuted.
"While he has been suspended from sitting on the court and is not receiving pay, I would reiterate my belief that it is in our state's best interest for Justice Loughry to resign so we can begin the long process of restoring our citizens' trust in their judicial system.
"Regardless of what course Justice Loughry may choose to take, the Legislature will continue its work to get to the bottom of what has occurred, to evaluate the evidence and assess how best to proceed to ensure that our judges and all public officials are held to the highest legal and ethical standards."
A member of the House of Delegates attended Stuart’s press conference.
“The Supreme Court of Appeals is the backstop for our whole state government,” said Democrat Mike Woelfel, also a Huntington attorney. “In other words, that is the place, they’re the final arbiter and if those folks are corrupt, or one of them would be corrupt, it undermines the whole system.
“If you’re going to be a justice of the Supreme Court, don’t engage in criminal activity. It’s that simple. You should be as pure as Caesar’s wife when it comes to corruption.”
Senate and House Democratic leaders also renwed their call that Justice and Republican leaders begin impeachment proceedings.
“As we stated in our June 8th letter to the Governor, President Carmichael and Speaker Armstead, our citizens deserve to be protected against corruption- and the Legislature must stand strong against Justice Loughry’s abuse of power,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said.
House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, agreed.
“The announcement today of the federal indictment of Supreme Court Justice Loughry is not surprising,” Miley said. “The Governor and Republican leadership must take immediate action- and I am hoping that perhaps today’s news will prompt them to finally initiate an impeachment proceeding.
“Continued delay reflects tacit indifference to his behavior.”
Miley said the federal indictment and state report are telling.
“There are some things included in the indictment, as well as in the Judicial Investigation Commission report, that are not in dispute – like the fact that Justice Loughry took state furniture home and used a state car for personal trips,” Miley said. “Any other state employee would have been charged with larceny.
“Impeachment proceedings are designed to remove an elected official from public office if he/she has engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of the office. What more do Republican leaders need to know for them to decide that Justice Loughry has undermined the integrity of the judiciary?”
The Senate Majority Leader agreed.
“As U.S. Attorney Stuart stated, the state Supreme Court stands in judgement of all West Virginians, and those justices’ conduct must be above reproach,” Prezioso said. “This saga has gone on long enough, and the Governor must call a special session to help restore the trust of all West Virginians in the justice system by allowing the impeachment process to begin so that the people can elect a new Supreme Court Justice in November. Time is of the essence.”
The chairwoman of the state Republican Party called the federal charges "very troubling."
“If proven true, the allegations against him are unacceptable misconduct and abuse by an elected official of any political party," Melody Potter said. "As our U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said, Justice Loughry maintains a presumption of innocence until otherwise found guilty by our legal system. The Constitution of West Virginia provides our Legislature, the elected voice of the people, the authority to address elected officials who engage in misconduct, misappropriation of public funds, or inappropriate activity.
"I urge our elected leaders in the Legislature to appropriately evaluate these developments and determine what actions, if any, are warranted. As the people’s elected leaders, this is their obligation to our Constitution and to the people of our great state."
Other Democrats also offered their thoughts.
“Democrats in the Legislature have for many months spoken about the overwhelming evidence of Justice Loughery’s corruption, and have demanded an impeachment hearing because it will allow our state to begin to put the torrid affair behind us,” Delegate Mike Pushkin said. “This politically inspired procrastination has only prolonged the long shadow of corruption.
“We need to act now to begin to restore normalcy and confidence in the state judiciary.”
Pushkin introduced legislation during the 2018 session to begin impeachment proceedings.
“It is beyond time for the House to impeach Justice Loughry,” state Senator and U.S. House candidate Richard Ojeda said. “I called for actions months ago and this Republican leadership just stalled and ignored it in order to protect one of their own. The Governor and House must act now.”
Delegate Shawn Fluharty agreed.
“Things that happen in the dark will always find a way to shine,” he said. “Our state deserves transparency and the truth, not continued weak leadership.”
Delegate Jason Barrett said the Legislature doesn’t have time to wait.
“This situation is not like a normal criminal investigation, which takes months if not years to resolve,” he said. “The Legislature cannot wait on the slow wheels of the federal judicial system to do our jobs for us. The impeachment process is not to pursue criminal charges and we do not need a guilty conviction to act.
“We need to act now. The people of West Virginia deserve a quick resolution and a corruption-free Supreme Court.”
Delegate Sean Hornbuckle said an impeachment proceeding would allow Loughry a chance to defend himself “and to shine light on his actions and provide accountability.”
“I look forward to the opportunity to investigate his actions in a public forum, do our constitutional duty and provide good government to the people of West Virginia,” Hornbuckle said.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle said he is ready to act now.
“I hope the Governor is in town today and at work as we are presented with a serious situation that requires immediate action,” Sponaugle said. “If the Governor does not act immediately to call the Legislature in session, I am prepared to circulate a petition to call the Legislature into session- and I’m sure many of my colleagues will be eager to sign on.”
West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword said the state has an ongoing culture of corruption, and he blames Republicans.
“Just like Justice Loughry, these Republican leaders don’t think the rules apply to them, and every day we are learning of another corruption scandal as a result,” Sword said. “In just the past few months, we’ve seen a Republican delegate be forced to resign to avoid jail time and the mishandling of $150 million meant to go to flood victims. Hard-working West Virginia taxpayers deserve better.
“It’s time for the Republican legislative leaders to own up to this troubling trend and take steps to ensure transparency and accountability, rather than spending their time helping political friends and hurting West Virginia families.”