With investigations galore, how many justices will be left?

August 6, 2018

Is the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rotten to the core?

It may be, but we’ll have to wait a while before we see how many of the justices remain after the Legislature and the federal government get finished with their investigations.

What has become of the highest court in West Virginia? One judge has pleaded guilty to hanky-panky and another has been indicted on more than 20 federal charges of lying, cheating and stealing.

But he has pleaded not guilty.

The result? A committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates has been forced to spend weeks looking into the possibility of impeaching him.

The justice apparently took the state for lots of dollars and now the House committee has spent perhaps a hundred thousand for no reason other than he has pleaded not guilty.

If he is impeached, the whole shebang moves to the West Virginia Senate, where a trial could last for weeks and cost another hundred thousand.

Sadly it’s the way government works, even in this state, which can’t afford to waste a dime.

Where did all this madness begin? It probably started in earnest when Don Blankenship spent $3 million to elect Brent Benjamin to the court about 15 years ago, defeating Blankenship’s arch enemy Warren McGraw.

Benjamin joined Blankenship’s friend, Spike Maynard, on the court. They were primarily responsible for a favorable decision in a case involving Blankenship.

Benjamin’s election and his involvement in the Blankenship decision became the inspiration for the best-selling 2008 novel “The Appeal” by John Grisham, a dramatization of the dangers of conflict of interest in an elected judiciary.

Grisham made millions off of West Virginia’s stupidity.

It appears things seems to have started going downhill rapidly more than a decade ago. But it took the federal government a decade and a half to take any justice to task.

State courts have never done what they are supposed to do when it involves state politicians or people of importance. If any of them have been sent to prison, they have been sent to federal prison because the federal government has prosecuted, not the state.

A lawyer source tells me that most state attorneys have known the real story of the high court but couldn’t say a word because of a rule for attorneys.

My source wrote:

“Rule 8.2. Judicial and Legal Officials (a) A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.

“In other words, a lawyer cannot even express an opinion if it could be construed as false. This runs counter to basic freedom of speech that says, as you know, opinion is protected.

“The rule says ‘statement’ that covers opinion as well as allegations. So, if I or anyone else wanted to say, ‘I think so-andso is corrupt!’ not only would I have to prove the statement in order to defeat a bar complaint, there is no safe harbor for simply having an opinion.

“Needless to say, it’s had a chilling effect on the entire bar for years but (the lawyers) felt as if their hands were tied when it came to blowing the whistle.”

What a mess. And how we crawl out of this swamp remains to be seen.

My lawyer friend agrees: Stand by for more judicial muck.

Dave Peyton is on Facebook. His email address is davepeyton@comcast.net.

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