CHARLESTON – U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead now are temporary state Supreme Court justices.
Gov. Jim Justice appointed Jenkins and Armstead to the vacant seats Aug. 25. Armstead will fill the seat vacated by former Justice Menis Ketchum's retirement, and Jenkins will fill the position left open by the Justice Robin Jean Davis's retirement. Both also have filed as candidates for those respective seats on the November general election ballot.
For now, they will sit on the court until new justices are elected in that special election.
“Both of these appointees are true conservatives, and both have the honor and integrity we need to restore trust to our highest court," Justice said. "These men have dedicated their lives to serving the people of West Virginia.
The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission interviewed candidates for the District 1 seat Aug. 23, the District 2 seat Aug. 24. The JVAC submitted its recommendations for both seats to Justice on Aug. 24.
The JVAC recommended Armstead, Stephen R. Crislip, Robert J. Frank and D.C. Offutt Jr. for the Division 1 temporary post, and it recommended Jenkins, Gregory B. Chiatras, James Victor Flanagan, William Schwartz and Martin P. Sheehan for the Division 2 temporary spot.
The court vacancies are a result of state and federal investigations into spending practices of the Supreme Court.
Ketchum resigned in July before a federal information was filed against him. He pleaded guilty Aug. 23 to one count of wire fraud. His sentencing is Dec. 6.
Ketchum admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and a state purchasing card on golf trips to Virginia, according to a federal information filed last month. 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. He is free on a $100,000 bond pending sentencing.
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. U.S. Attorney Mike 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. That was allowed by his fellow justices.
Davis resigned earlier this month on the same day the House of Delegates passed articles of impeachment against her, Chief Justice Margaret Workman, suspended Justice Allen Loughry and Justice Beth Walker.
Loughry faces a 25-count federal indictment after the federal grand jury issued another second superseding indictment against him earlier this month. The new charges allege Loughry, 48, used a state vehicle to travel to his native Tucker County to attend a court hearing for his father and used a state credit card to purchase gas for personal travel. In total, Loughry faces 17 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of making false statements to federal agents, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering.
He also is named in a 32-count charge from the state Judicial Investigation Commission of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by misusing state resources and lying about it.
"We've been dismantled in some ways and we've lost some level of confidence and some level of trust," Justice said during his Aug. 25 press conference announcing the appointments. "On a nationwide basis, it's cast a black eye. What we need to do more than anything is repair, move on and show the nation how committed we are as West Virginians to have a solid court and, in my opinion, without any question, a conservative court."
Also, 20 people have filed to run for two seats on the state Supreme Court in this November's general election. There are 10 candidates who filed for each seat.
The Division 1 seat has two years left on Ketchum's term, and the Division 2 seat has six years left on Davis's term.
Those who filed for the Division 1 seat are Armstead, Charleston attorney Harry C. "Bo" Bruner Jr., Williamson attorney Robert H. Carlton, Huntington attorney Ronald H. Hatfield Jr., Charleston attorney Mark Hunt, Clay County attorney Hiram "Buck" Lewis IV, Barboursville attorney D.C. Offutt Jr., Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit of Charleston, Berkeley Circuit Judge Chris Wilkes of Martinsburg and Nitro attorney Jeff C. Woods.
Those who filed for the Division 2 seat are Jenkins, Kanawha Family Court Judge Jim Douglas of Charleston, Lewisburg attorney Robert J. Frank, former state Senate President Jeff Kessler of Glen Dale, Hurricane attorney Brenden D. Long, Wheeling attorney Jim O'Brien, Charleston attorney William Schwartz, Wheeling attorney Marty "Red Shoes" Sheehan, Charleston attorney Dennise Renee Smith and Boone Circuit Judge William S. Thompson of Madison.