CHARLESTON – Former state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty to a federal information.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart made the announcement during a July 31 news conference. An information is used by federal authorities when a defendant agrees to plead guilty and waives his right to an indictment. Stuart and federal investigators have been examining the state Supreme Court’s spending practices.
Ketchum, 75, used a state-owned vehicle to commute from his home in Huntington to the court in Charleston starting in 2012, according to the information charging him with one count of wire fraud.
An information can’t be filed without a defendant's consent. It also usually means the defendant is cooperating with federal prosecutors.
"Defendant Menis E. Ketchum II knew that he was not authorized to use the Buick Lucerne nor was he authorized to charge his fuel costs to the State of West Virginia because this travel was entirely for personal and recreational reasons," the information states.
Ketchum also charged the state for the gas he used, according to prosecutors. The vehicle, a 2007 Buick Lucerne, was supposed to be used only for business.
Ketchum also used the car to travel to a "private golf club in western Virginia” at least seven times, according to the information.
"There is no such thing as a little bit of public corruption," Stuart said during the July 31 press conference. "I intend to do all I can to ensure that our people have the honest government they deserve.
"Corruption by public officials – any public official – is a priority for this office. It has been since the day I took the oath. I believe it’s a fundamental right of every West Virginian to have honest government with public officials worthy of the greatness of our people.
"The West Virginia Supreme Court should be, and must be, above reproach … above even the slightest appearance of impropriety. Our Supreme Court must be a beacon of hope and where upholding the law is paramount."
Suspended Justice Allen Loughry already has been named in a 23-count indictment and charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal agents, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
“Justice Ketchum did the right thing for doing the wrong thing," Stuart said. "Justice Ketchum stepped up and owned his illegal activity. ... We’re one step closer, one step closer to ending the crisis of this court.”
A state legislative audit report said Ketchum obtained permission from his fellow justices to start using a state vehicle for his commute from his home in Huntington to the state Capitol. The report also said Ketchum used the vehicle to go to a few out-of-state golf outings as well, but it also showed he didn’t indicate his use of the vehicle on his personal income tax returns.
Ketchum had his W-2 tax forms retroactively updated, according to the report. It also said Ketchum repaid the state $1,663.81 for travel expenses.
Ketchum was elected to the court in 2008, and his term was scheduled to end in 2020. He was chief justice in 2012 and in 2016.
Ketchum’s retirement was official July 27. He resigned July 11, a day before the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against all members of the Supreme Court. Gov. Jim Justice issued an official proclamation July 30 calling for a special election to fill Ketchum’s seat on the state Supreme Court to be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Loughry was suspended June 8, two days after he was charged by the state Judicial Investigation Commission with 32 counts of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by misusing state resources and lying about it. That is in addition to the federal indictment. His federal trial is scheduled for Oct. 2.