CHARLESTON – Members of the House Judiciary Committee resumed state Supreme Court impeachment proceedings Aug. 6, and it included a tour of the court offices at the state Capitol.
During the morning tour, committee members and a few members of the media were able to look the offices of each state Supreme Court justice. They examined the $32,000 couch in suspended Justice Allen Loughry’s office as well as the $7,500 wooden inlay of the state of West Virginia in his office floor.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman was in her office during the tour. She sat behind her desk and pointed out that the wooden floor and a wooden cabinet were the only items paid for with taxpayer dollars, according to pool reporter Brad McElhinny from MetroNews.
“Where I spent the money that I spent was on permanent fixtures, all the built-in cabinets, shelving and flooring that will be here a hundred years from now,” Workman told McElhinny.
There was a letter from the court to the judiciary committee near the beginning of the impeachment proceedings a few weeks ago, calling the hearings a “fishing expedition” because of the broad scope.
Workman stood by some of the concern raised in that letter.
“The concern was, we just wanted to know what the rules of the proceeding were going to be,” she said. “On one hand, it’s been likened to the way a grand jury functions and, yet, if it were like a grand jury the members wouldn’t be going on talk radio or serving dinner to a witness.”
That last remark was about former Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury, who testified a whole day and into the dinner hour, accepting an invitation to eat fried chicken that had been prepared by the wife of Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer. It was offered to all the delegates and staff.
“We need to get information from all sides, not just a side with an ax to grind,” Workman said.
As the interview concluded, Workman added, “Just remember: Everything in here belongs to me, but that was what cost a few dollars, as well as the floor. And those things will be here a few hundred years from now,” she said, pointing at the wood cabinets.
Later in the day, committee members heard testimony from Sue Racer-Troy, director of the finance division for the court. She answered questions about the costs associated with the renovations to the Supreme Court offices and other facilities.
She said she noticed inconsistencies in some of the information about the renovations, including that the cost associated with renovations to Justice Robin Jean Davis’s office included architectural fees and infrastructure repairs that weren’t included in the costs associated with the offices of the other justices.
When testimony on the seventh day of impeachment proceedings resumed, the committee also was given evidence that senior status judges might have received illegal payments based on an administrative order that included an opinion from Loughry.
Senior status judges are former judges. They receive retirement payments as well as $435 per day when they are appointed to serve.
When a senior status judge has earned $20,000 from work they do while temporarily seated, Racer-Troy said the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board monitors them. If a judge has such a long-term situation, Racer-Troy said the Supreme Court has begun switching senior status judges to contracted employees.
State code prevents senior status judges from making more than a sitting judge. That includes retirement pay and the per-day pay. An order that included Loughry’s opinion on the matter said the court could authorize that senior status judges could be paid more than the $126,000 annual salary for circuit judges. Loughry, Workman, Davis, retired Justice Menis Ketchum and former Justice Brent Benjamin all signed paperwork supporting that change when they served as chief justice.
House Judiciary attorney Brian Casto said falsifying accounts is a felony and carries a sentence of one to 10 years in prison. But Joe Altizer, the attorney for the House Democrats, said the practice of switching senior status judges to contracted employees isn’t illegal because the statute only mentions the retirement and the per-day pay.