CHARLESTON – West Virginia continues to demonstrate to the rest of the country what a real constitutional crisis looks like.
While problems exist in many states, no other state now shows the potential of what can happen when a state government actually begins to tear itself apart.
I wish I was exaggerating. I wish this was not how our state is described in national news. This debacle stems from misuse of taxpayer money by justices on the Supreme Court, as well as the court administrator.
The court spends about $130 million a year to run our system of justice from magistrate courts up to circuit courts and staff. About 1,500 employees and support take up 80 percent of this $130 million. The rest is discretionary.
Some time back the members of the court decided on office renovations. Somehow an $800,000 budget ballooned to over $3 million. Often the Court Administrator needed approval for spending from the justices.
One of the rooms to be renovated was a little used place called room E-400. Apparently to save time, or for some other reason, the administrator was given blanket authority to work with contractors to renovate this room.
There may be some question as to whether Justice Allen Loughry informed fellow justices about what happened next, but spending began to escalate. We taxpayers bought $32,000 couches and expensive chairs.
Room E-400 became a black hole where our tax dollars got sucked away. There is some dispute as to whether the justices were aware of the administrator’s actions. He insists they were. It doesn’t matter. If they didn’t know, they should have.
A justice needs to apply the law fairly to all parties. We also demand responsible spending of our tax dollars by all branches of government.
We can never again have a black hole sucking away our tax dollars. We can never again have a room E-400. We must make sure we have a reliable Court Administrator. And, even then, we need to closely and constantly monitor all court budgets and expenditures.
We need our tax money for education, vital infrastructure and to battle the opioid crisis. The new court must select the best administrator and be a vigilant steward in how our money is spent.
Better days are ahead for West Virginia. We can be a story about how to turn things around and not a nationally ridiculed state in decline where we are feeding off each other. Civic duty rather than greed must take the day.
This is not a dream if we take our rightful seat at the table. Politicians fear only one thing. They fear and respect voters.
I am not a politician, but I am a lawyer with deep respect for the law – and I vote. If 300,000 or more of my fellow citizens join me on Nov. 6, we can take our state back.
We can take a seat at the table. If we don’t vote and are not at the table, we will continue to be on the menu. We will be served up on fine china to an opulent court ... and so will our children and our future.
Our court system is broken. I’m Bill Schwartz. Please help me fix this.
Schwartz is a candidate for state Supreme Court.