CHARLESTON – The House of Delegates now will hear the articles of impeachment against the four remaining state Supreme Court justices after being recommended by the Judiciary Committee.
The committee voted Aug. 7 in favor of 14 of the 16 articles of impeachment. There originally were 14 articles, but two were added during deliberations. The two articles that were rejected were one related to current Chief Justice Margaret Workman and the hiring of employee for political favors and one related to Justice Beth Walker hiring outside counsel to author an opinion.
"This is truly a sad day for West Virginia, but it is an important step forward if we are going to restore the public's confidence in the judiciary," Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said. "This committee did not take this effort lightly.
"After reviewing all the evidence available to us, it became clear that a culture of entitlement and disregard for both the law and taxpayer funds have damaged the reputation of our judicial system - and that all justices had a part in violating the public's trust."
The recommendations now go to the full House for a vote. The House will meet in special session at 10 a.m. Aug. 13 to consider the matter. If the House approves, the articles of impeachment then would go to the Senate for a trial.
As the eighth day of testimony in the impeachment hearings began Aug. 7, Shott said the articles would be discussed. Delegates were given a packet of the charges against the four remaining justices. That includes Workman, Walker, Justice Robin Jean Davis and suspended Justice Allen Loughry.
Committee attorney Brian Casto explained the 14 original articles separately.
Article 1 relates to Workman and Davis adopting a policy when they served as chief justice to switch senior status judges to contracted employees.
Senior status judges are former judges. They receive retirement payments as well as $435 per day when they are appointed to serve. State code prevents senior status judges from making more than a sitting judge. That includes retirement pay and the per-day pay.
On Aug. 6, the committee saw 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.
On Aug. 6, 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.
Article 2 charges Workman, Davis, Walker and Loughry for failing to discharge their duties of office by not controlling expenses, such as renovations to their offices, state-paid lunches, use of state equipment at home and failing to report taxable fringe benefits.
Articles 3 through 7 target Loughry for taking a $42,000 antique Cass Gilbert desk to his home, for using state computer equipment and hardware for personal use, for using state vehicles for personal use and a fuel purchasing card for book, for the overpayment of senior status judges and for the expenses related the remodeling of his office.
Article 8 focuses on Walker’s office renovation.
Article 9 relates to Walker for outsourcing the writing of an opinion at a significant cost.
Article 10 focuses on the expenses for the remodeling of Davis’s office.
Article 11 targets Davis for the overpayment of senior status judges.
Article 12 focuses on the remodeling of Workman’s office.
Article 13 accuses Workman of making sure favored people were hired by the court, often for no important work purpose.
Article 14 targets Workman for the senior status judge pay issue.
Article 15 was added during deliberations, and it related to Loughry lying under oath to the House Finance Committee.
Article 16 also was added, and it related to Loughry using state funds to frame personal items.
The committee considered amendments to each article individually, and then debated each article. Articles 9 and 13 were the ones voted down.
A simple majority vote in the full House is required to proceed with impeachment, and a two-thirds vote in the Senate would be required to impeach the justices.