CHARLESTON – After more than 15 hours of debate, the House of Delegates has voted to impeach all four current state Supreme Court justices.
Suspended Justice Allen Loughry, current Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Jean Davis and Justice Beth Walker all have been named in articles of impeachment passed by the House during the Aug. 13 votes. The vote to include Walker came just before midnight.
All of the current members of the state Supreme Court were named in the Articles of Impeachment, which also is known as House Resolution 202. The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend impeachment of the four members in the 14 articles last week.
The state Senate now will conduct a trial to possibly remove the Justices from the bench. Any removal would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.
“This is a sad day,” House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said. “There’s no cause for anyone to celebrate. But it is our duty. I think the public demands it. …
“We’re basically plowing new ground. Justices have never been impeached before.”
Shott (R-Mercer) said the committee and the House must answer questions that aren’t clearly defined, such as differing degrees of responsibility of each justice and how the state Constitution allows for impeachment but doesn’t define the grounds other than to say any state officer “may be impeached for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.”
“Where we end up is, there’s a great deal of subjectivity to this process,” Shott said.
The House voted 64-33 on Article 1 of the Articles of Impeachment. Delegates debated the article and other impeachment-related matters for more than 90 minutes before taking the first vote.
Article 1 focused solely on spending for Loughry’s office renovation, which included a $32,000 couch.
Earlier in the day, the House voted to look at each article individually and to vote on each as such. After the vote on Article 1, the House took a lunch break.
After lunch, the delegates voted on Article 2. The vote was 56-41 in favor of impeaching Davis over the renovations of her office, which cost more than $500,000.
The House voted 97-0, having three absences, in favor of adopting Article 3, which involved Loughry's removal of the Cass Gilbert desk from the state Capitol to his Charleston home.
The House voted 62-34 on Article 4, which had to do with Workman and Davis – when they served as Chief Justice in recent years – circumvented law to pay senior status judges more than state law allowed.
Article 5 was similar to Article 4, but focusing solely on Davis. It passed 61-35. Article 6 focused solely on Workman, and it passed 63-34. Article 7 again is similar, but focused solely on Loughry. It passed 51-45.
Article 8 focused on Loughry's use of state vehicles for personal use. It passed 96-0. Article 9 was about Loughry's use of state computer equipment at his home. It also passed 96-0.
Article 10 deals with Loughry lying under oath while testifying earlier this year before the House Finance Committee. It passed 94-2.
Delegate and House Judiciary Vice Chairman Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) asked for Article 11 to be withdrawn. It had to do with Loughry's use of state money to frame private memorabilia. It had been added during the House Judiciary's proceedings last week.
Article 12 focused on the renovations to Walker's offices. After much discussion about Walker's brief tenure on the court (she was elected in 2016 and took office in January 2017), it was voted down 44-51.
Article 13 was similar, but about Workman's office renovations. After the vote against the previous article, Shott asked to have it withdrawn from consideration. The House voted to withdraw it.
Article 14 focused on maladministration and lack of oversight by all four current justices. After much debate, and a failed motion (12-83) to amend the article to remove Walker from it, the article passed 51-44.
After a nearly hour long break, the House returned after midnight to consider an additional article focusing on Walker being accountable for outsourcing the writing of an opinion to outside counsel. Walker paid current interim court administrator Barbara Allen $10,000 to write an opinion for her in 2017 in Quicken Loans v. Walters before Allen was a court employee. The court also paid Allen to write another opinion in 2016.
The article was considered last week by the House Judiciary Committee, but it was rejected. The House also voted it down Aug. 14 by a 26-70 vote.
Also after midnight, another House Resolution was introduced recommending public censure of the four remaining justices about spending issues related to the court regardless of whatever action is taken in the Senate. It was adopted by a 95-1 vote.
Then, Another resolution was introduced recommending the public admonishment and censure of former state Supreme Court Justices Menis Ketchum and Brent Benjamin for their part in the spending issues. Benjamin lost in his 2016 re-election bid to Walker, and Ketchum retired from the court last month before the impeachment proceedings began. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Then, a resolution was introduced to name the delegates to present the Articles of Impeachment to the state Senate. It was adopted on a voice vote.
Following that, House Bill 201 was introduced to provide for a special election for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court created by impeachment and making sure no legislator can run for the seat. It was referred to the House Judiciary despite an attempt by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle to take the matter up immediately.
Earlier in the Aug. 13 debate, some delegates noted that the state Supreme Court currently has control of its budget unless a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more control over it. They argue that while the spending for office renovations might have been inappropriate and morally wrong, it wasn’t illegal.
While debating Article 1, Delegate Chad Lovejoy (D-Cabell) said he and the other delegates must decide where the line is drawn for actions that warrant impeachment.
“I’ve settled on a line I learned a long time ago,” he said. “And that’s lying, cheating and stealing.
“When you go in and eliminate four of them (justices) based on inappropriate spending … make no mistake, we are eliminating an separate branch of government. … We may be violating the separation of powers clause.”
Lovejoy also said he believed the purchases for Loughry’s office “do not reflect the humility of a servant,” but that poor judgment doesn’t necessarily warrant impeachment.
Delegate Tom Fast (R-Fayette) had suggested an amendment to Article 1 saying the House recommended public censure for Article 1. It was voted down 91-5.
Two different groups said the impeachment of Workman, Davis and Walker was too much.
“Many members of the West Virginia Chamber have expressed their serious concerns that the allegations contained in the Articles of Impeachment against Justices Davis, Workman and Walker appear to be subjective,” West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said. “The impeachment of an elected official must be considered only as a last resort, and only upon meeting the highest Constitutional standards."
The AFL-CIO agreed.
“While Labor and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce don’t often agree, today we do on the issue of House impeachment proceedings and we would like to add our voice to theirs,” the labor group wrote in a statement. “We agree that the impeachment process for Justices’ Davis, Workman and Walker is not the right avenue to proceed and doing so has the potential to set an unwelcome precedent in our state.”