West Virginia Record

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Judicial Investigation Commission closes complaints against three justices

State Supreme Court

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 24, 2018

CHARLESTON — The Judicial Investigation Commission has issued letters to the three remaining justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, informing them that the complaints against them were being closed.

In the letters sent to Justices Beth Walker, Robin Jean Davis and Margaret Workman, Judicial Investigation Commission Chairperson Ronald E. Wilson stated that the commission did not believe they had violated any provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Complaints were presented to the JIC on July 20 alleging that Walker, Davis and Workman had violated five rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct involving paid working lunches. The complaints had been made earlier in the year by the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel.

The court provided paid lunches for the justices and other staff on argument days because the justices continued to hear arguments through lunchtime in order to complete the day's docket quicker beginning in 2012.

Walker later decided to reimburse the court for her and her assistant's lunches because she had previously promised herself she would limit the amount of public money used for expenses, according to the letter. She personally paid $2,019.23, which was one-fifth of the total cost of the paid lunches, the total being $10,096.20 since it wasn't possible to tally up what her lunches and her assistant's lunches were. 

"You had no involvement in the original decision to provide working lunches on argument and administrative conference days and you had no reason to challenge the practice at the time you took office because it was well-known and well-established practice although it had never been reduced to writing," Wilson wrote. "As no further action is warranted, the complaint against you is dismissed and the file in this matter has been closed."

In the letter to Davis, Wilson noted that she had appropriately noted that the working lunches weren't just for the justices and were utilized by other agencies as well.

"You employed an already well-established policy utilized by other state agencies to make the court run more efficiently and effectively on argument docket and administrative conference days," Wilson wrote. "Perhaps the only criticism that the JIC can make is that you failed to reduce the policy to writing—with well-established guidelines for the purchase of the working lunches."

Workman stated that when she had served on the Supreme Court from 1989 until 2000, there was a regularly scheduled time for a lunch break, however, when she was re-elected to serve in 2009, the schedule was "an ever-changing phenomenon, depending on how long the arguments went and who the chief justice was," according to the letter.

One of the justices then suggested the working lunches and the informal plan began.

The JIC noted that by failing to formalize the policy in writing, the justices "unnecessarily opened the door to unfair public criticism of an otherwise appropriate method for conducting the business of the court."

The ongoing impeachment hearings with the House Judiciary Committee have focused mainly on Justice Allen Loughry's alleged misdeeds.

On July 20, a tour of the Supreme Court chambers was postponed so that members of the media could attend.

Barbara H. Allen, the interim administrative director for the Supreme Court, sent a letter to Del. John H. Shott on July 23, informing him that the committee, along with the media, could attend on Aug. 1, 2 or 3. A date hasn't been finalized yet.

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