CHARLESTON — Today’s impeachment hearings for West Virginia Supreme Court justices ended with a delay of a tour of the justices’ offices until next week.
The tour was supposed to be held today after the hearings, but several members of the House Judiciary Committee felt that media should have access to the tour and voted to delay until July 27.
Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) made the motion for the delay, noting that it was a possible open meetings violation to not allow members of the media to be present during the tour.
Fluharty said during the hearing that the knowingly violating the Open Meetings law was a misdemeanor for all members of the committee.
While members were allowed to take notes, the Supreme Court denied members of the committee to take personal photographs, only allowing the Legislative photographer to take photos during the tour.
“So, members of the body are not allowed to take photos of the furnishings and renovations paid for by tax payers of West Virginia?” Fluharty asked.
When Chairman John Shott (R-Mercer) confirmed this, Fluharty asked why the Supreme Court was allowed to dictate the committee’s open meeting.
“This is a voluntary visit that was arranged, just like anybody else could ask for a visit to the Supreme Court, we’ve asked as a group for members who wish to visit to be permitted to visit,” Shott said. “It’s a public building, but it’s subject to certain controls.”
All but two delegates voted to delay the tour—Charlotte Lane (R-Kanawha) and Tom Fast (R-Fayette).
The committee voted to allow three members of the media to be present during the tour to provide coverage for all media agencies.
“I don’t believe that renovations qualify as a work product of an agency, and it’s funny you brought up the Open Meetings potential…it’s a misdemeanor under the law to knowingly violate the open meetings law,” Fluharty said in the hearing.
This morning, while there were no witnesses to testify, the committee heard suspended Justice Allen Loughry’s archived testimony before the House Finance Committee and an affidavit from Kimberly Ellis, a court employee.
Ellis stated in the affidavit that Loughry was “very involved in the decisions regarding the renovations to and furnishings of his office.”
Ellis also testified in the affidavit that the construction costs for his office were discussed with him and that the contractor provided a detailed analysis of the costs to him before construction began.
“Justice Loughry wanted a West Virginia map on the floor of his office. Justice Loughry hand sketched the West Virginia map and placement of his furnishings…for his office,” Ellis’ affidavit stated.