CHARLESTON – State lawmakers still are talking about the impeachment of the entire state Supreme Court.
On Aug. 14, Democratic leaders of the House of Delegates urged suspended Justice Allen Loughry to resign immediately.
“Justice Loughry is the reason that the House of Delegates began to investigate the Supreme Court,” House Minority Whip Mike Caputo (D-Marion) said. “Justice Loughry has cast the judiciary branch into turmoil with federal criminal charges and Judicial Investigation Commission charges pending as a result of his illegal use of state resources for personal gain.”
Loughry, Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Jean Davis and Justice Beth Walker all were impeached Aug. 13 by the House. The proceedings now move to the state Senate for a trial. A two-third majority in the Senate will be required for removal from office for each justice.
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the Senate will meet Aug. 20 to adopt rules to be followed for the impeachment trials for Loughry, Workman and Walker. Davis resigned Aug. 13 and won’t be included in the proceedings.
Carmichael also said each of the 11 Articles of Impeachment passed by the House will be handled individually, and each justice will be considered separately as well.
“Each individual is handled separately,” he said on MetroNews’ “Talkline” program. “There will not be a consolidation of those articles of impeachment. Each one will be handled separately which I believe is the proper way to handle it.
“I don’t see any way to properly do this–beginning the trials and so forth until mid-September probably.”
Other Democrats in the House also were critical of Loughry’s refusal to step down before the Aug. 14 deadline that would have allowed his seat to be on the November election ballot. The seats for Davis and former Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned in July, will be put before voters.
“Justice Loughry has broken the law,” Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton) said. “Now, he is going to waste even more taxpayer dollars through what could be a lengthy impeachment trial in the Senate, in addition to the federal criminal charges and the Judicial Investigation Commission complaint that he is facing.
“There is little doubt that the Senate will impeach Justice Loughry and remove him from office, as his actions were not just unethical, but also illegal. … Our state’s highest court should not be handed to the governor who will undoubtedly take a partisan approach to the appointment.”
A Kanawha County delegate who began pushing for Loughry’s impeachment in February agreed.
“West Virginia voters are sick and tired of the waste, fraud and abuse in state government,” Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) stated. “For once, Justice Loughry should consider the cost to the taxpayers of our beloved state.
“The State of West Virginia needs to close this chapter of corruption in our court system and move forward to deal with other, more pressing challenges that deserve our attention. It is obvious to anyone who is paying attention that Justice Loughry will be impeached or removed from his office as he is facing a myriad of corruption charges.”
Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee responded to comments made by Davis during her retirement statement accusing GOP legislative leaders of partisanship.
“We thank Justice Davis for her decades of service on the bench, and for her retirement, which will now spare the state the cost of an impeachment trial against her,” John Shott (R-Mercer) said. “As we have said many times throughout these proceedings, this is a sad time for the state of West Virginia, and no one takes joy in this process.
“We also respect Chief Justice Workman and Justice Walker’s decisions to remain on the court while they present their case before the Senate.”
Shott said it’s important to note that the Articles of Impeachment did not accuse the justices of failing in their roles as jurists.
“Rather, these articles charge the justices with a failure to fulfill their duty to properly oversee and administer the operations of the judicial branch of government,” he said. “As Chief Justice Workman told the Legislature's Post Audits Committee in April, ‘We were busy being judges and not perhaps paying enough attention to administrative things.’
“That failure in administration has led to the Articles of Impeachment they now face today. When we began this proceeding, our committee was asked to look at the entire court and each justice individually, and we followed where the evidence led and tried to pursue it in a nonpartisan way.”
Shott said partisan politics didn’t play a role in the process.
“There were no pre-determined outcomes, and nobody involved in the process had any idea where it would ultimately lead,” he said. “And we certainly had no intention to use it as a tool to usurp the judicial branch of government.
“Unfortunately, as we pursued the evidence, it became clear that the state Supreme Court has been overcome by a culture of entitlement and cavalier indifference with regard to the spending of taxpayer money. This has resulted in the public's loss of confidence in the state's highest court which must be repaired.
“I believe Justice Davis's decision to resign, as well as the coming trials in the state Senate, will help move us toward the ultimate goal of restoring our citizens' trust in the judiciary.”