Judicial oversight amendment passes

By Kyla Asbury | Nov 7, 2018

CHARLESTON — West Virginia voters supported an amendment to give lawmakers more judicial oversight of the budget.

Amendment 2 passed with 422,411 votes, which was 74 percent.

The amendment allows for the Legislature to reduce the state judiciary's budget by up to 15 percent.

West Virginia was one of the only states in the union to allow its Supreme Court to have full control of its finances.

The Legislature had previously tried to obtain more oversight of the budget, but it wasn't until the controversy that was brought to light last year that it really began to take flight.

Last November, a WCHS story about spending at the West Virginia Supreme Court that showed the Supreme Court had renovated the justices chambers and other parts of the court in the amount of $3.7 million since 2009, including Justice Allen Loughry's $32,000 couch, which included $1,700 throw pillows, among other costly renovations.

Other controversies then came to light, including the justices' use of state vehicles for personal matters and "working lunches" that were paid for by taxpayers.

In October, the current Supreme Court voted in the majority in favor to support the amendment.

Justice Beth Walker said she supported the decision.

"As you know, I enthusiastically supported the court's decision to support Amendment 2," Walker said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "We are ready for a new era of accountability and transparency that the taxpayers of West Virginia want and deserve."

Walker said she and the other justices look forward to working with the Legislature toward better oversight of the judiciary's budget.

Amendment 2 will also require the current chief justice of the court to appear before the Legislature to ask and answer questions concerning the budget of the court if either the House or Senate makes a request to do so.

Lawmakers started pushing for the proposed amendment Bass's investigation came to light. 

Earlier this year the House Judiciary Committee adopted a change to Senate Joint Resolution 3 that would narrow how much lawmakers could oversee the Supreme Court's budget.

Under that change, if the Legislature wanted to reduce the judicial branch’s budget by more than 10 percent, a supermajority of lawmakers would need to support the cut.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) previously said the constitutional amendment was one of his biggest priorities for the legislative session.

After the controversies came to light, the House voted to impeach the entire Supreme Court. Justice Robin Jean Davis and Menis Ketchum resigned and Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins were appointed to their seats.

Loughry is currently suspended and awaiting his impeachment trial. His criminal trial was held last month, where he was found guilty on 11 of 22 federal charges against him, including mail fraud, wire fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal agents.

He is awaiting sentencing in January.

Loughry is currently seeking acquittal or a new trial on nine of the 11 counts. This request is the second one where he's requested a new trial.

Last month, the state Judicial Hearing Board scheduled a hearing for Loughry for Jan. 14 after lifting a stay. The board had issued the stay pending Loughry’s federal trial. On the same day, the state Judicial Investigation Commission amended its formal charges against Loughry to include the federal convictions.

The JIC filed its statement of charges against Loughry in early June. That statement of charges led to Loughry being suspended by the state Supreme Court based on those 32 charges. He also was impeached – along with Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Jean Davis and Justice Beth Walker.

Walker already had her trial in the state Senate and was acquitted. Workman filed a motion to have her impeachment trial halted. An acting state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Workman, basing the decision on constitutional and procedural grounds such as the House of Delegates not following proper procedures during the impeachment proceedings. The same acting Supreme Court later issued an order saying that ruling extended to Davis and Loughry as well.

West Virginians also voted yes on Amendment 1, which would make the state constitution neutral on abortion.

The amendment adds "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion," to the Constitution.

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