CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA. West Virginia’s House of Delegates has approved 11 articles of impeachment against that state’s Supreme Court. In other words, West Virginia legislators in the House have effectively erased the state’s top court by impeaching all four of the state’s remaining Supreme Court justices. These include Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Davis, Justice Allen Loughry and Justice Beth Walker. Impeaching an entire court is a rarity in America. But West Virginia’s now Republican-dominated legislature managed pull it off.
There’s more, according to longtime West Virginia reporter and now online commentator Don Surber, writing in an August 14 column.
“A fifth [justice] escaped by resigning last month and then pleading guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud.
A comment on Surber’s site provides a further update.
West Virginia Supreme Court justices gone wild
This radical but constitutional solution to an unaccountable state supreme court started to unfold when West Virginia journalists uncovered out of control, excessive spending by the justices. Each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on office decor, furniture, and other non-essential items in a state, abusing this already impoverished state.
Legislators further charge these justices with negligence for not holding each other accountable for this excessive spending. The legislators additionally charge the justices with increasing their pay above the legal amount in West Virginia.
Due to this history, Surber provides a short narrative detailing the increasing corruption of the West Virginia Supreme Court dating from at least the late 20th century
“Sadly, these justices are only the latest in a revolving door of grifters who abused the highest judicial office in the state.
“The state Supreme Court did OK for its first century or so, then in 1976 the unions put up three men who won the majority of the five seats: Sam R. Harshbarger, Thomas B. Miller, and Darrell V. McGraw Jr. They turned the court into a workers compensation mill, approving in favor of the employee any and all appeals.”
State legislators, Feds, drill down on the charges
This court has also been a notoriously popular venue for lawyers who are accustomed to feasting on outlandish medical malpractice jury awards. That’s been one factor behind the current scarcity of health coverage options available to West Virginians since the advent of Obamacare.
Notably, of the impeached justices, Loughry had already been indicted for numerous counts of violating federal law. Excamples include the misuse of state cars/credit cards for personal use, witness tampering, and misleading investigators. Loughry already has an October trial date scheduled.
In addition, Federal prosecutors have begun preparing a case against Loughry, alleging that he violated federal law in addition to the laws of West Virginia. The alleged frauds perpetrated by Loughry include misuse of official cars and credit cards for non-work business and lying to other judges. Loughry is also alleged to have misled government investigators.
Surber provides even more local color.
“Once in office, Loughry continued to spend taxpayer money as if it were his own. He started using a state car over the holidays. He pushed for expensive renovations of the court’s offices. He had taxpayers buy a $32,000 couch for his office. He took home a court computer, and an expensive antique desk.
“When Kennie Bass of Channel 8 asked him about it, Loughry lied through his teeth.
“In short, he was as corrupt as anyone in his book.
“Which resulted in a 25-count federal indictment.”
The likely illegal activities of the the remaining justices are still being investigated.
Democrat legislators vs. Republicans
As in the federal government, the impeachment process in West Virginia is likely to fall into a party-line division. The once-domimant Democrats in the West Virginia legislature agree with the charges against Loughry. But they claim that the other justices on the court are being unfairly treated, labeling the current impeachment process a “witch hunt” by majority Republican legislators
Republicans counter the Democrats’ complaints, plausibly claiming that the impeached justices lost the confidence of the people.
The West Virginia governor’s next move
If the West Virginia Senate convicts and formally removes the elected Supreme Court justices, West Virginia’s Republican Governor Jim Justice — a onetime Democrat — would be the one choosing the new judges. Given the governor’s current strong allegiance to President Donald Trump, echoing West Virginia voters’ newfound and passionate embrace of both Trump and the Republican Party, his appointments will likely swing the new court considerably to the right until at least 2020.
However, the resignation of Justice Davis poses a potential problem for Governor Justice. One reason Davis resigned this week was to enable her seat to go up for election in November instead of being filled by an immediate Republican replacement chosen by the governor.
When government officials use taxpayer money as their own
Don Surber sums up the entire sordid mess in detail. Above all, he observes that, as always in politics, feasting on all the “free” money available via the taxpayer trough is why a great many politicians in both parties often begin their government service as average Joe Sixpacks, yet leave the government as multi-millionaires.
“Spending other people’s money is intoxicating. Justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis imbibed. Ketchum used a state car to commute 80 miles to his home. Davis bought an $8,000 chair. Her husband is one of the richest ambulance chasers in the state. They spent $3,000 each on statues of their dogs.
“But public money is like holy water, right? Everybody takes a little.
“Justices Peggy Workman and Davis approved pensions larger than the law allows for senior judges.
“The fifth justice, Beth Walker, failed to blow the whistle on all this. And like the rest, she renovated her office. It was the in thing. I wonder whose buddy got the contract.
“The state Constitution pretty much required these impeachments.”
Follow the link above to read the rest of Don Surber’s fascinating commentary.
Headline photo: West Virginia Capitol Building in Charleston, WV.
(Image via Wikipedia entry on WV State Capitol, CC 2.0 license)
— T. L. Ponick contributed to this article.