AP NEWS

W.Va. Senate ask US Supreme Court to review impeachments

March 11, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate joined the House of Delegates on Monday in seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review of a ruling that halted impeachment proceedings involving the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a petition on the Senate’s behalf, asking for examination of an October ruling by a temporary panel of state Supreme Court justices.

The state constitution gives the legislature the sole power of impeachment. The Senate petition argues the temporary panel inappropriately expanded the state judiciary’s authority.

The acting justices’ decision “renders impeachment’s promise of accountability hollow by setting the judiciary up as its own judge, and impermissibly upsets the balance of powers between what should and must be co-equal branches,” the petition said.

The House requested a similar review in January.

Neither review addressed whether a specific justice should be removed or seeks to restart impeachment proceedings.

Justices Margaret Workman, Robin Davis, Allen Loughry and Justice Beth Walker were impeached in August over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. Some of the justices were accused of abusing their authority by failing to rein in excessive spending.

Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge at her Senate trial in October.

A week later the temporary panel of justices ruled that the impeachment efforts were a violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine and that the Legislature lacked jurisdiction to pursue the trials.

Workman remains on the Supreme Court. Walker is now chief justice. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony charges in federal court for using his job for his own benefit and lying to investigators. He was sentenced last month to two years in prison.

Justice Menis Ketchum retired in July before the House impeachment hearings. He pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card and was sentenced to probation.

Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016, but the court’s impeachment scandal stirred political attacks. Some Democrats argued the court’s shakeup was a power grab by Republicans.

Two Republican former lawmakers were appointed in the place of Ketchum and Davis and later won election to complete their terms. Republican Gov. Jim Justice appointed a lifelong friend to replace Loughry until a 2020 special election.

State lawmakers and others have said public trust in the state’s court system was broken by the actions of Loughry and others. Voters in November approved a ballot measure allowing the GOP-led Legislature to decide each year whether to reduce the courts’ budget.