The current status of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has created much controversy in the Mountain State and has spread across the country with national news reporting on the matter. How did the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia go from a relatively unknown body to five impeached justices and on the brink of a constitutional crisis? It all started with a desk, a couch, some office renovations, and travel expenses.
In December 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was made up of five duly elected justices: Chief Justice Allen Loughry; Justice Robin Davis; Justice Margaret Workman; Justice Menus Ketchum; and Justice Elizabeth Walker. Reports started surfacing that the justices had spent in the neighborhood of three million dollars of taxpayer money for their office renovations. Additional reports stated that Justice Loughry had taken furniture from the Supreme Court building to his home, including a leather couch and a desk informally known as a “Cass Gibert” desk, named for the architect of the West Virginia State Capitol. Following these reports, Justice Loughry was replaced by Justice Workman as the Chief Justice. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
At the beginning of June 2018, the West Virginia Judicial Ethics Committee charged Justice Loughry with thirty-two violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This led to his suspension from the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. Within three weeks of being suspended, the FBI arrested Justice Loughry at his home in Charleston, West Virginia, on a 22-count indictment that included charges for fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal investigators, and witness tampering. Charges were later added and some were dropped as well.
After Justice Loughry’s arrest, Justice Ketchum retired from the Court and shortly thereafter, it was discovered that federal charges were being levied against him as well. Specifically, wire fraud resulting from Judge Ketchum’s improper use of a state fuel card, a charge to which the justice pled guilty.
Then came the articles of impeachment. One by one, the West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach each of the remaining four justices for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and certain high crimes and misdemeanors. The House of Delegates lead the way with approving the articles of impeachment against Justice Loughry and at the end of the day, all four remaining justices had articles of impeachment approved against them and they were sent to the Senate for trial. However, upon receiving word of the articles of impeachment approved against her, Justice Davis resigned from office.
Today, only two of the aforementioned justices remain: Justices Walker and Workman. Although the two justices were able to keep their seats, they both had their fair share of blows hurled at each of them. Justice Walker was the first justice tried on the charges of impeachment. Ultimately, the West Virginia Senate voted 32-1 to acquit her of the impeachment charges, but the West Virginia Senate did vote to pass a resolution to reprimand her.
Justice Workman’s impeachment trial was scheduled for October 15, 2018, but on October 11, 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (believe it or not), with justices sitting by temporary assignment, granted a writ of prohibition ruling that the Senate did not have jurisdiction over the alleged violations and the allegations of the Articles of Impeachment violated separation of powers doctrine. Thus, Justice Workman’s impeachment trial has been delayed indefinitely.
Currently, sitting next to Justices Walker and Workman are three new justices, one of which is sitting by temporary assignment. Two new justices were appointed by Governor Jim Justice, Congressman Evan Jenkins and former Speaker of the House of Delegates Tim Armstead, and they both ultimately won their respective election in November of this year. Justice Loughry resigned from his position in November 2018, opening up yet another seat on the Court for an appointment to be made by Governor Justice.
Ultimately, the chaos and debacle of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia dominated headlines in 2018 in the Mountain State. All levels of government were dragged into the foray, including the Department of Justice, the FBI, federal district courts, state ethics committee, the West Virginia Legislature, and a temporary Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia deciding if the Senate had jurisdiction for the impeachment proceedings. There are those people that believe this was all a political stunt to overthrow the Court in an attempt to have new justice appointees. Then there are those that truly believe that all of the justices should have been impeached and removed from the Court. Either way, this chaos and debacle has taken the level of trust in the West Virginia judiciary to an all-time low, which voters in the state echoed on election day with the passage of Amendment 2, which removes the Court’s authority over its own budget and places it with the Legislature.
For more information about this article, please contact Landon Moyer at 571.612.5950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.