MORGANTOWN – The opening sentences of Robin Davis’s letter of resignation as a state Supreme Court Justice read as follows: “I deliver this statement today in dismay, disbelief, and in sadness. I feel profound grief for the State of West Virginia given the current state of affairs.”
Who could disagree with that? The events that have come to light over the past nine months about the operation, exorbitant spending and misuse of public funds by the State Supreme Court of Appeals have shocked the conscience of West Virginians.
Unfortunately, however, Davis was not talking about the Court’s behavior. Instead, the sentences were the opening salvo of an attack on the process that led to the House of Delegates decision to impeach Davis, as well as (suspended) Justice Allen Loughry, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker.
In her resignation, Davis goes on to call the impeachment a disaster for the Rule of Law, an attempt to dismantle a separate branch of government, and “a preconceived, result driven mania” by the Republicans. Davis said she is resigning because she “cannot allow the finalizing of their plot to come to fruition.”
So, her retirement is a noble gesture? Either that or her resignation is a last desperate attempt by someone who was very close to being removed from the Court to stomp out of the office with the familiar parting shot of “you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit.”
Davis’s egotistical bitterness overshadows legitimate concerns about the process that legislators themselves have raised. Is the impeachment and possible removal from office an overreach by one branch of government? Is a $500,000 office renovation an impeachable offense, but not a $130,000 upgrade?
Interestingly, nowhere in Davis’s parting shot does she even reference the exorbitant costs of her office work. Those costs included, but are not limited to, $23,000 for “design services” by an architect, $90,000 for glass countertops, a glass door and flooring, $40,000 for stainless steel cabinets and shelves, two Edward Fields rugs for $28,000, and an $8,000 office chair.
It is worth noting here that during the impeachment of State Treasurer A. James Manchin in 1989, then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Hatcher provided guidance on how wasteful spending could rise to the level of impeachment. Hatcher wrote that incompetency (one of the grounds for impeachment) was defined as, among other things, “the wasting or misappropriation of public funds by any officer.” Hatcher applied a similar interpretation for neglect of duty. He wrote that could “include the willful waste of public funds.”
Months ago, when WCHS-TV’s Kennie Bass broke the story, Davis told the reporter, “I wanted the people to hear about my office from me. Anything that is done in this office is on me.” That turned out to be a prescient statement.
Most of the attention following the spending revelations focused on Justice Allen Loughry who, as the evidence now indicates, lied to investigators and the public about his role in the opulent office work. However, as the investigation has proceeded, we have learned more about all of the spending by the Court, including Davis’s extravagance, and that has stoked public enmity.
That admission helped her avoid a legal tangle similar to Loughry’s, but it certainly never justified the spending, nor did it protect her from impeachment. As House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott said in response to Davis’s harsh criticism of the impeachment process, “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.”
For anyone with lingering questions about that corrupt culture and the arrogance that accompanied it, a quick read of Davis’s letter of resignation is in order. Dismay, disbelief and sadness are certainly appropriate, but not for the reasons cited by Davis.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.