Ex-WV justice avoids jail time

March 7, 2019

CHARLESTON — Former West Virginia Supreme Court justice Menis Ketchum will serve no jail time after pleading guilty to one count of federal wire fraud in August.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver sentenced Ketchum, 76, to three years of probation and a $20,000 fine Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Charleston. Ketchum also was ordered to pay $749 in restitution.

The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Ketchum’s sentencing guideline, which was advisory, ranged from zero to six months, although the U.S. Attorney’s Office initially disputed that and said his guideline should have been between six and 12 months.

Ketchum’s attorneys argued for a sentence of only a fine or only probation.

Ketchum admitted that he used a state government credit card to put gasoline in a state-owned vehicle to go on a personal golf trip to Bristol, Virginia. He also used a state-owned car to commute from his home, in

Huntington, to the court in Charleston starting in 2012, according to an information filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia.

In a sentencing hearing that lasted about 30 minutes Wednesday, Copenhaver referenced letters he received about Ketchum’s character. And he applauded Ketchum for promptly reimbursing the state for the travel costs and for resigning, sparing West Virginia additional “spectacle.”

Ketchum announced that he was stepping down from the Supreme Court in July, avoiding impeachment proceedings. Four other Supreme Court justices were the subjects of articles of impeachment in the House of Delegates.

Ketchum was regarded as a “superb” lawyer and Supreme Court justice, whose opinions “touched us all,” Copenhaver said.

He encouraged Ketchum to spend the rest of his life serving the community doing pro bono projects and helping with causes such as the opioid epidemic in Huntington.

Ketchum apologized to the state’s judges and to his wife and three children.

“I’ve embarrassed them, and I’ve caused havoc,” he said of the state judicial system.

Outside the courthouse, he declined to comment.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced a plea agreement with Ketchum on July 30, three days after his resignation was effective.

“He accepted responsibility,” Stuart said. “His sentence is his sentence, and we can live with that.”

Stuart would not comment on whether Ketchum may run for public office in the future.

Ketchum’s license to practice law was annulled in October. In November, former House Speaker Tim Armstead was elected to complete the remainder of Ketchum’s term, which expires in 2020.

Last month, former Supreme Court justice Allen Loughry was sentenced by Copenhaver to 24 months in prison on 10 federal charges that included mail fraud and wire fraud. He also was placed on three years of supervised release, fined $10,000, ordered to pay $1,273 in restitution and may never seek public office again.

“I think the big distinction between Justice Loughry and Justice Ketchum was the acceptance of responsibility and a very long, distinguished career serving in a number of capacities, even in pro bono capacities,” Stuart said. “So I think the judge took mercy.”