CHARLESTON – Much of the questioning during the first day of impeachment proceedings against members of the state Supreme Court focused on vehicle use by Justice Robin Jean Davis and suspended Justice Allen Loughry.
Justin Robinson, acting director of the Legislative Post Audit Division, was the first witness to testify July 12 before the House Judiciary Committee.
Following Robinson, Legislative Manager and Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred spoke. He mostly talked about the Cass Gilbert desk that was taken from the state Capitol to Loughry’s house.
Robinson also discussed the audit report that focused on the court’s purchase of gift cards to reward people in the drug court system.
Earlier in the day, committee members asked Robinson questions about the three reports his office have put out this year that have focused on vehicle use by current justices, former Justice Brent Benjamin and former Court Administrators Steve Canterbury and Gary Johnson. No issues were found with Benjamin, Johnson, Chief Justice Margaret Workman or Justice Beth Walker.
Robinson’s answers essentially reiterated the information found and reported in those audit reports.
According to documents and Robinson’s testimony, the audit showed Davis had seven instances of checking out court vehicles when a destination was listed but no business purpose was listed. On each of those seven instances, Davis was driven by Arthur Angus, the Court’s director of security.
One of those instances was a three-day trip – Nov. 13-15, 2011 – that included Davis traveling from Charleston to attend anti-truancy events in Wheeling and Parkersburg. She spent the night in Wheeling on Nov. 13, attended the court event Nov. 14 in Wheeling before being driven to Parkersburg later in the day. That evening, she attended a fundraising event for her 2012 re-election campaign. She spent the night in Parkersburg and attended the court function Nov. 15 in Parkersburg before being driven back to Charleston.
Davis did not charge the state for lodging on this trip, and she charged $115 total for meals over the course of the three days.
As for Loughry, the report said he used a 2009 Buick Lucerne, a 2012 Buick LaCrosse and other vehicles. It says he reserved a car for 212 days from 2013 to 2016, and that there were no destination listed on 148 of those days. Many of those days were in December when the Court is on a break. Loughry had a state vehicle for 27 consecutive days through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays from December 10, 2014 to January 5, 2015.
“The only person we can recall that failed to provide destination information when asked was Justice Loughery [sic],” the memo states.
The report says other justices questioned in writing whether Loughry’s use of the state car was for business purposes, “to which Justice Loughry made it clear that in his view, he should not have to report a destination or a purpose. His position was that once he said he was traveling on state business that should be the end of any inquiry. In turn, Justice Loughry questioned whether the use of state vehicles by Justices (Robin Jean) Davis and (former Justice Brent) Benjamin was for business purposes.”
The audit also questioned Loughry’s use of rental cars, noting mileage disparities.
“On many of these trips, there is a widely disproportionate number of miles recorded on the odometer reading section of the receipts, compared to the actual round-trip mileage from the airport to the hotel where Justice Loughry stayed,” the report states, including a table showing seven such cases.
On a 2015 trip to a conference in Montreal, Loughry stayed at a hotel 13.6 miles from the airport where he rented the car. But, receipts show the car was driven 607 miles. For another conference in Omaha, the hotel was 4 miles from the airport, but receipts show the rented car was driven 475 miles.
The total amount spent for rental cars on those seven trips was nearly $2,700 “in unnecessary expenditures,” according to the report.
“Based on this analysis, it appears possible that Justice Loughry, or a travel companion allowed to use rental cars, vacationed on the state’s dollar,” the report states.
Former Justice Menis Ketchum, who announced July 11 his resignation and retirement effective at the end of July, also was mentioned in the audit report.
But as House Judiciary Chairman John Shott noted at the beginning of the proceedings because of Ketchum’s resignation, the committee “will not be spending any time dealing with the findings of any reports” regarding him.
During his testimony, Allred detailed how state employees helped Loughry move the antique Cass Gilbert desk – valued at $42,000 – out of his home and into a warehouse while they were on the clock. Allred also said Loughry had used the desk when he was a Supreme Court clerk before he was elected to the court. Allred also mentioned receipts showing the state paid moving companies to help Loughry move the desk.
Robinson was called back in the evening to talk about the growth of the court’s budget surplus to $29 million that eventually was spent down to just a few hundred thousand dollars. In 2007, the court had a budget surplus of about $1.4 million. By 2012, it was $29 million. And by 2016, the amount was about $333,000.
Before the July 12 session began, Shott talked about the importance of the proceedings. He called it rare and “critically important.”
“We have an obligation to hold accountable the public officials that the public can’t hold accountable,” Shott said. “We are encroaching, in a sense, on a separate branch of government. …
“If you value and cherish the separation powers of doctrine, you’ll appreciate the importance of what we’re about to do."