The West Virginia House of Delegates worked until nearly midnight on Monday, before reaching the final decision in an earthshaking public abuse and corruption scandal of historic significance. They stunningly voted to impeach all four of their Supreme Court justices. That means they all stand accused of “a public crime for which the punishment is removal from office,” and now face trial in the state Senate.
The courtroom drama was centered around Beth Walker, the only one who stood a significant chance of acquittal. After a lengthy and sometimes contentious session, the final questions concerned whether Walker, along with the other justices, “abused their authority by failing to control office expenses” and for “not maintaining policies over critical matters,” AP news reports.
“I think the overwhelming evidence we saw was there was an atmosphere of entitlement and cavalier disregard for the expenditure of taxpayer money. It’s unfortunate the entire court seems to be infected by that atmosphere,” Rep. John Shott (R- Mercer County) said last week.
When the final vote came in, Walker was impeached with the rest. Earlier in the day, she escaped impeachment on charges of improperly using $131,000 for office renovations.
Some of the members acknowledge that Walker’s spending could be considered excessive but “paled in comparison” to what the other justices were throwing away.
Another point came up when some legislators wouldn’t “support impeaching any justice for wasteful spending, only for articles pertaining to lying, cheating or stealing.” Rep. Shott pointed out the core of the question should be “whether there is public confidence in the court,” and if not, “we need to take action to try to rebuild that trust.”
An important thing influencing the discussion was the fact that “the Supreme Court has a separate budget and is currently allowed to spend as it sees fit.” They plan to plug that hole with a constitutional amendment soon.
Justice Allen Loughry’s fate was virtually predetermined since he also currently faces 23 separate federal charges. He made “a federal case out of it” by turning in his fellow justices to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“To draw attention away from himself when his office renovation came under fire in the press, Loughry approached the FBI ‘to report his own concerns about spending by other justices of the Supreme Court,’” relates Conservative Daily Post.
When the lawmakers first sat down, there were 14 articles of impeachment recommended by their House Judiciary Committee last week. Eight of them were directed straight at Justice Allen Loughry, who was already suspended.
According to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, Loughry’s “scheme to defraud” went on for nearly five years, “from June 2013 through at least March 2, 2018.” Worse, Loughry had been a vocal “critic of government abuse,” for a long time.
Along with Walker and Loughry, Justice Robin Davis and Chief Justice Margaret Workman were named in the impeachment proceedings. Justice Menis Ketchum retired last month when he saw the writing on the wall. Ketchum already pleaded guilty “to one federal count of wire fraud stemming from the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards,” AP notes.
The first order of business the House considered was one of the charges against Justice Loughry. In a 64-33 vote, he was impeached for spending $363,000 to fix up his office. Seven other charges were still pending for him.
Next up for consideration was Justice Robin Davis, accused of the most blatant extravagance of the whole group. Her office remodeling bill came in at a little over $500,000.
Delegate Tom Fast (R- Fayette County) related to the assembled House “he’s seen the work done in Davis’ office, including track lighting on the floor.” According to Fast, the work was “over the top.” For him, Davis’ impeachment “is one of the more easy ones.” The vote came in 56 to 41.
As the afternoon wore on, Loughry’s name came up again while they discussed the $42,000 antique Cass Gilbert desk and $32,000 leather couch, both owned by the state, which ended up in his home office.
Adding insult to injury, he had the Supreme Court pay the moving expenses to his home, then back to the warehouse. Both pieces were moved separately, generating 4 different bills, CDP reported.
It isn’t a surprise that the vote to impeach on that count was unanimous. There wasn’t even much discussion, observers noted. “The article passed with little debate.”
By 6:30 p.m., Chief Justice Margaret Workman was the third to face a trial. Along with Justice Davis, who also held the role of chief justice, Workman signed the “documents” that allowed “senior status judges to be paid higher than allowed wages.”
Both were responsible for overpayments which “violated state law.” When the Internal Revenue Service challenged the spending, it stopped.
An hour later, Loughry was looking at impeachment on four more of the charges against him. Again the vote was unanimous on charges of lying to the House Finance Committee about his office renovation spending and on charges of “driving state vehicles for personal use and of using state-owned computers at his home.”
The lawmakers decided to cut Loughry some slack and withdrew an impeachment article involving personal items which hung in his office, framed at public expense.
After another three hours of consideration, Walker was cleared on impeachment for her office remodeling spending. Debate continued until nearly midnight before deciding to add Walker’s name to the list recommended for trial. West Virginia thus made history by impeaching their entire sitting Supreme court.