Nine apply to temporarily fill Ketchum's Supreme Court seat

By Chris Dickerson | Aug 15, 2018

CHARLESTON – Nine people have applied to temporarily fill retired state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum's seat.

The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission released the names of those who applied, including some who have been rumored to be interested in the permanent position.

The nine who applies are House Speaker Tim Armstead of Charleston, Robert H. Carlton of Williamson, Gregory B. Chiartas of Charleston, Robert J. Frank of Lewisburg, U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins of Huntington, Arthur Wayne King of Clay, D.C. Offutt Jr. of Barboursville, Williams Schwartz of Charleston and Martin P. Sheehan of Wheeling.

The JVAC will conduct interview of the nine applicants Aug. 23 and will make recommendations to Gov. Jim Justice, who will make the final decision. The person Justice appoints will serve on the Supreme Court until voters select a candidate to fill out the remainder of Ketchum's term, which expires in 2020.


Armstead  

Aug. 23 also is the date of Ketchum's plea hearing in federal court. Last month, Ketchum agreed to plead guilty to a federal information to one count of wire fraud. He had resigned and retired from the court last month, weeks before the information related to misuse of a state vehicle was released.

Ketchum, 75, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An information is used by federal authorities when a defendant agrees to plead guilty and waives his right to an indictment. An information can’t be filed without a defendant's consent. It also usually means the defendant is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Stuart and federal investigators have been examining the state Supreme Court’s spending practices.

Ketchum 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.

"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 announcing the information. "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 25-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.

On Aug. 13, the House of Delegates voted to impeach Loughry along with Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Jean Davis and Justice Beth Walker for failure to hold each other accountable, circumventing the law regarding payment of senior status judges and excessive spending on office renovations.

On Aug. 14, Davis announced her retirement from the court. And earlier this month, Workman appointed Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell to fill-in for Loughry during his suspension. The governor will make temporary appointments to fill the seats of Ketchum and Davis until voters elect new justices to finish out their unexpired terms.

As of Aug. 15, five people officially have filed paperwork with the Secretary of State's office to run for Ketchum's seat in the November election to finish out his term until 2020. They are Harry C. "Bo" Bruner Jr. of Charleston, Carl E. Hostler of Scott Depot, Brenden D. Long of Hurricane, Marty Sheehan of Wheeling and Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit of Charleston. One person has filed paperwork to finish Davis's term that ends in 2024. That is Boone Circuit Judge William Stewart Thompson of Madison. Jenkins has said he plans to run for Davis's seat, but hasn't officially filed paperwork to do so.

Two others – Kanawha Family Court Judge Jim Douglas and Charleston attorney Dennise Smith – have filed pre-candidacy papers to begin raising funds for their campaigns. But neither have filed officially for either Supreme Court race.

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