New faces on state Supreme Court after impeachment proceedings
HUNTINGTON — The teachers’ strike in West Virginia garnered plenty of national attention, but so did another state story this year: The attempted removal of the state’s entire Supreme Court.
In November 2017, WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass released his report of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals’ spending habits. Of the claims, Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s $363,000 office renovation, complete with $32,000 sectional sofa with $1,700 throw pillows, caught the most attention. But the court had other spending problems. Along with pricey renovations to all the justices’ offices, it was unveiled the justices spent state funds on pricey in-house lunches. They paid others to make decisions for them. They approved overpayment for other judges.
The West Virginia Judicial Commission then found Loughry removed a Court-owned Cass Gilbert executive desk from the office to his home in Charleston. The commission also charged Loughry used a state vehicle to travel to promote his book on ethics. He was suspended from the court.
The charges eventually led to Loughry being indicted in federal court in June and his subsequent conviction in October on 11 of 22 counts filed against him. His sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 16.
Shortly following Loughry’s indictment, Justice Menis Ketchum resigned from the bench and pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting he used a state vehicle and state fuel card to travel outside of court functions.
The state Legislature also opened up an investigation into the justices and began the process to impeach the entire bench.
As a result, Justice Robin Davis retired in August, the same day the House of Delegates voted to impeach. Davis said she was retiring in order to give the voters of West Virginia a chance to choose her replacement, instead of the GOP-led government.
Despite the House voting to impeach the justices, the proceedings came to a screeching halt in the Senate when a temporary state Supreme Court ruled that the charges against Chief Justice Margaret Workman were unconstitutional, saying the House overstepped its authority on certain charges and was flawed in its procedure.
Still, voters got to choose two new justices to replace Ketchum and Davis in the November election, electing former Speaker of the House Tim Armstead and former representative for the 3rd Congressional District of West Virginia Evan Jenkins.
In December, Justice appointed Raleigh County Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison to fill Loughry’s open seat on the bench. He will serve until a 2020 special election.