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West Virginia Legislature Impeaches State Supreme Court Justices for Alleged Misconduct

by Derek Gilna

The West Virginia legislature on August 13, 2018, approved 11 articles of impeachment against all West Virginia Supreme Court justices for alleged “wasteful spending, maladministration, incompetency, neglect of duty, and potential criminal behavior,” according to CNN.  

The impeachment vote generally broke along party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor, and Democrats voting in opposition.

Chief Justice Margaret Workman, and Justices Allen Loughry, Robin Davis, and Elizabeth Walker, were formally charged. All but Workman will face trial on those charges in the West Virginia Senate, which requires a three-fifths vote to convict. Workman’s trial was blocked October 11, 2018, by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which cited violations of the separation of powers doctrine. “This case is not about whether or not a justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia can or should be impeached; but rather it is about the fact that to do so, it must be done correctly and constitutionally with due process,” the ruling stated.

A fifth Justice, Menis E. Ketchum II, who retired from the court in late July, has since been charged with federal financial crimes, and will apparently plead guilty.

House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington declared: “This is one of the saddest days in my 34 years in the Legislature. It has become clear that our Supreme Court has breached the public trust and lost the confidence of our citizens. This somber action today is an essential step toward restoring the integrity of our state’s highest court.”

Davis, who retired from the court after her impeachment, claimed that Republicans are overstepping their bounds by their actions. “What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed our own society. For when a legislative body attempts to dismantle a separate branch of government, the immediate effects, as well as the precedent it sets for the future, can only be deemed disastrous,” she said. “The majority members have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this state. They’ve erased the lines of separation between the branches of government.”

Most of the legislature’s complaints appear to stem from extensive and expensive renovations to the justices’ offices and alleged misuse, or in some cases outright conversion, of state property. Davis was impeached for $500,000 in office renovations. Walker spent $131,000 on office renovations, and Workman spent $111,000. Loughry—accused of taking a historically significant desk to his home for personal use and of using a state vehicle on personal trips and a state-issued card for gas—also spent $363,000 on office renovations. Ketchum, accused of misusing a state vehicle and a fuel credit card, has agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice.

A special election has already been set to replace Ketchum. According to the state’s constitution, Republican Gov. Jim Justice has the power to appoint replacements for the impeached judges. 

Sources: cnn.com, cbsnews.com, wvgazettemail.com, newsandsentinel.com, wvpublic.org

 

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