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Supreme Court, teachers’ strike dominated headlines in W.Va.

December 21, 2018
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FILE - In this March 1, 2018 file photo, Parry Casto, a fifth grade teacher at the Explorer Academy in Huntington, W.Va., dressed in an Uncle Sam costume leads hundreds of teachers in chants outside the state Senate chambers at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va This is one of the top stories in West Virginia in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raby, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Questions involving lavish office renovations and other alleged misdeeds at the West Virginia Supreme Court led to separate impeachment and criminal investigations and, ultimately, a reshuffling of the court.

Three of the five justices resigned. Two were convicted in federal court. Two new justices were elected in November and a third was appointed. Ultimately, a group of fill-in justices declared the entire impeachment process unconstitutional.

The extraordinary yearlong saga was voted West Virginia’s No. 1 news story in 2018 by Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters.

It barely beat out a nine-day statewide teachers’ strike that inspired other walkouts across the country. Finishing third was Democrat Joe Manchin’s re-election to a second full six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

John McCabe, managing editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, said the impeachment scandal got his top vote “given the unprecedented nature of what took place throughout 2018 and the longer-term implications for the state.”

Some Democrats argued that the court’s shake-up was a power grab by the Republican-led legislature.

Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July before the House of Delegates conducted impeachment hearings. Impeachment articles were approved in August for the other four justices, and Justice Robin Davis stepped down immediately afterward.

Justice Beth Walker was cleared at her Senate trial. A group of fill-in justices later declared the impeachment process unconstitutional. Senate President Mitch Carmichael is still considering whether to challenge the ruling.

Justice Allen Loughry , who also resigned, and Ketchum were convicted in federal court and face sentencing in January.

In November, state voters approved a constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the option to reduce a portion of the Supreme Court’s spending.

“Who could have predicted 12 months ago that we would see four of the court’s five members impeached by the Legislature, watch another resign and plead guilty in federal court, and witness the man who wrote the book on political corruption in West Virginia, former justice Allen Loughry, be convicted in federal court,” McCabe wrote. “It remains hard to comprehend that all this took place in slightly more than a year.”

The teachers’ strike drew the most first-place votes despite finishing second in the survey. It also prompted the most comments.

Teachers and school staffers arrived by the thousands at the state Capitol in late February to lobby lawmakers for pay raises and improvements in benefits. They eventually won a 5 percent pay increase. Public employee insurance premiums, deductibles and copayments were frozen for the coming year and a task force was appointed to try to find long-term funding.

“The reverberation of the work stoppage, only the second in the state’s history, will likely continue to be felt for years to come,” said Matthew Umstead, a reporter for the Hagerstown (Maryland) Herald-Mail.

Rounding out the top 10 stories were:

— West Virginia voters approve a constitutional measure that would allow lawmakers to restrict or outlaw state funding for Medicaid abortions.

— A rash of complaints about poor management and residents receiving no help from a housing assistance program for 2016 flood victims leads to a shake-up.

— Gov. Jim Justice signs a bill limiting supplies for painkiller prescriptions and names the third director of the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy in a year.

— West Virginia’s Roman Catholic archdiocese releases the names of priests or deacons credibly accused of child sexual abuse since 1950.

— West Virginia becomes one of the first states to allow casino-based sports betting.

— West Virginia’s economy continues to rebound with eight consecutive months of tax collections surpassing estimates.

— Notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger is killed at a federal prison in West Virginia, the third at the facility over a six-month period.

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