CHARLESTON – The House Judiciary Committee will resume work on Supreme Court impeachment proceedings on July 12.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, made the announcement July 5. He said committee members and staff have been working to identify and schedule potential witnesses since it last met June 26. He said they also are gathering evidence for the proceedings.
On June 26, the House of Delegates voted 89-0 during a special session to give the committee the power to investigate impeachment of Supreme Court justices.
Last month, suspended Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was indicted on a federal charges. The 22-count indictment includes allegations of wire fraud, mail fraud, lying to federal investigators and witness tampering. He also was named in a 32-count statement of charges by the state Judicial Investigation Commission on June 6. It said he broke the Judicial Code of Conduct 32 times related to court spending, his use of a state vehicle and how vehicle use was reimbursed.
The state Judicial Hearing Board has issued a stay in the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel’s matter against Loughry pending federal criminal charges. The stay was ordered July 2. Loughry requested the stay on June 20, which is the day he was charged in a 22-count federal indictment that included allegations of mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal investigators and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.
While Loughry is the only justice who has been indicted and suspended, the Legislature has used language regarding impeachment that leaves the door open to other justices.
Shott said the House Judiciary Committee will meet July 12-14 before recessing to allow members and staff to organize additional witnesses and gather further evidence. Then, the committee will reconvene July 19-21. Further scheduling will depend on how fast and thoroughly the process unfolds.
In addition to scheduling hearings, Shott has appointed a bipartisan team of managers who will help him oversee the process. Should articles of impeachment be drafted and approved by the Judiciary Committee, this team of managers will present those articles to the full House of Delegates, and, if they are adopted, be responsible for the trial in the Senate.
The legislative managers are Committee Vice-Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Delegates Ray Hollen, R-Wirt; Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha; and Rodney Miller, D-Boone.
"I am confident that we can proceed in an impartial and non-partisan manner commensurate with the seriousness of the assignment entrusted to us," Shott said.
The specific time, location and agenda for the committee's July 12 meeting will be posted in the coming days.
By law, the House of Delegates would have to establish the articles of impeachment. The state Senate then would serve as the jury.
Lawmakers initially are working on a timeline. In a memo, Shott said time is of the essence. It mentioned having the preliminary work done by Sept. 6, which would allow a special session that would coincide with legislative interim meetings in the middle of September.
But, Aug. 14 is an important date. If there is an opening on the Supreme Court before that, it could be on this fall’s general election ballot. If not, Gov. Jim Justice would appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
Because of that, Democrats are pushing for an earlier deadline. Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said Republican leaders are pushing for the later date so Justice, a Republican, can appoint someone.
Going back to the state Judicial Hearing Board, the July 2 order says the JDC must notify the board in writing every 28 days about the status of Loughry's federal criminal charges.
Loughry’s federal trial is set for Aug. 28 before District Judge John Copenhaver. A pretrial motions hearing is set for Aug. 7. Loughry remains free on a $10,000 non-surety bond.
Loughry was indicted June 20 – West Virginia Day – on 22 counts that include lying to federal agents, witness tampering, mail fraud and wire fraud. If convicted of all charges, he faces fines of $5.5 million and 395 years in prison. He also faces up to three years of supervised release.
Loughry is accused of using a government vehicle and submitting mileage claims for reimbursement; using a government vehicle and credit card on personal trips; and unlawfully converting his own use a historically significant people of furniture — the Cass Gilbert desk.
Loughry also was indicted for attempting to corruptly obstruct and influence testimonial evidence of a Supreme Court employee in an imminent grand jury investigation.
He also is accused of lying to federal investigators during questioning about the allegations.
Loughry’s indictment was unsealed five years to the day after Loughry had an antique Cass Gilbert desk valued at more than $40,000 moved from the state Capitol to his home.
The 22-count indictment charges are 16 counts of mail fraud, which carry a penalty of up to 20 years each; two counts of wire fraud, which carry a penalty of up to 20 years each; three counts of making false statements to a federal agent, which carry a penalty of up to five years each; and one count of witness tampering, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years.
The state Supreme Court suspended Loughry without pay while charges of judicial misconduct against him were pending on June 8. That motion meant that Loughry could not hear any arguments or perform any judicial functions while his case progresses through the court system.
Two days prior, a request to suspend Loughry's law license was issued, along with a 32-count Statement of Charges.
In the June 6 filing, the Judicial Investigation Commission claimed 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.