CHARLESTON – An expert on judicial ethics says every day Allen Loughry remains on the state Supreme Court is a travesty, but he also thinks it’s good to remind people that impeachment can be a practical tool as well.
“This would be a garden variety corruption case except that it involves a state Supreme Court justice, which is pretty rare,” said Charles Geyh, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. “It involves a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court, which has had more than its share of ethical lapses in recent years. And, it involves a justice who wrote a book decrying graft and corruption in West Virginia politics, which elevates the irony to levels befitting a trashy Greek tragedy.”
Loughry, 47, was named June 20 in a 22-count federal indictment, accused of wire fraud, mail fraud, lying to federal investigators and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty, and his trial is scheduled for Aug. 28. A pretrial motions hearing is set for Aug. 7. Loughry remains free on a $10,000 non-surety bond.
He 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 for his own use a historically significant people of furniture — a Cass Gilbert desk valued at more than $40,000. He 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.
In addition, Loughry 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. And the state Supreme Court since has put any proceedings regarding the state charges on hold pending the federal matter.
Also, the state Legislature is about to begin impeachment proceedings on July 12. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said committee members and staff have been working to identify and schedule potential witnesses. 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.
Geyh served as assistant special counsel to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the impeachment and removal of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen in 1995. He said that was the last time a state Supreme Court justice was impeached in the United States.
“I think that, on one hand, every day he (Loughry) stays in office is a travesty,” Geyh told The West Virginia Record. “But, on the other hand, there is some value to dusting off the machinery to help preserve the checks and balances. Showing everyone that impeachment is a good and valuable tool to use when necessary isn’t a bad thing.”
Geyh, who teaches and writes about judicial conduct, also said he thinks it’s beneficial for the federal charges, the state conduct investigation and the impeachment proceedings all to be moving forward simultaneously.
“I find it odd, at one level, for the state to be deferring to the federal government by waiting to see what happens with the federal indictment,” he said. “They have a job to do. There are other things the disciplinary authorities could look at regardless of the federal case.
“But, I understand where the courts don’t want to step on the toes of others. If they remove him, it would take the sails out of an impeachment effort. But there comes a point where the legitimacy of your institution is up for grabs.
“I see no problem and no harm done in efforts going together simultaneously.”
He said when he was involved in the Pennsylvania case in 1995, there wasn’t much information to look at for reference.
“It was all on a federal level,” Geyh said. “That’s because removal via disciplinary proceedings is much easier and, thus, much more frequent.
“But my view is that, particularly if the disciplinary process is looking at different matters, I don’t see anything wrong with all three proceeding simultaneously. The bottom line is preserving the legitimacy of the courts.”
Geyh said, if all of the charges are true, he figures Loughry is “looking at a way to negotiate a surrender to give him a more favorable outcome” since he hasn’t resigned or pleaded guilty yet.
“It just strikes me as important to note that there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who is saying this is all a mistake other than Justice Loughry. So, I think there is some value in moving quickly.
“If he negotiate a resignation, the courts will stop going after him and impeachment proceedings will end. I would guess he’s just waiting for the opportunity. Unless it all is true and he just remains in a state of denial.”
Geyh said the often used phrase “trust the process” applies here.
“The state ought to be concerned about the legitimacy of the court,” he said. “They’re doing the right thing in bringing out the big guns in three different ways. Then, it’s just a matter of proceeding at pace. If it happens quickly, the state will get a pat on the back for figuring this thing out. Or, it could go on and on and on.
“But, let’s face it. I’m not scratching my head over this one. It’s a real problem. It’s just a question of how best to deal with it. You have to believe in due process, but you also want to have him removed as quickly as possible once you learn he has engaged in misconduct.”