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West Virginia Senate mulls next steps in impeachment drama

November 28, 2018
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FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2018 file photo, Senate President Mitch Carmichael discusses the details of a proposed amendment with Michael A. Woelfel, D-Cabell, center, and Charles S. Trump IV, R-Morgan, left, during a special session to begin impeachment proceedings against state Supreme Court Justices Allen Loughry, Beth Walker and Chief Justice Margaret Workman at the Capitol building in Charleston, W.Va. Carmichael is mulling his options after the state Supreme Court refused to revisit a ruling that halted the impeachment process of several justices. A panel of judicial stand-ins ruled Oct. 11, 2018, in favor of Justice Workman's challenge of her impeachment. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The leader of West Virginia’s Senate said he’s mulling his options after the state Supreme Court refused to revisit a ruling that halted the impeachment process of several justices.

“At this point, one branch of government has to be the adult in the room,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said. “We’re going to continue exploring ways to get this ridiculous decision reversed.”

A panel of judicial stand-ins ruled Oct. 11 in favor of Justice Margaret Workman’s challenge of her impeachment, saying the Senate lacked jurisdiction to pursue the trial. The decision also was applied to retired Justice Robin Davis and Justice Allen Loughry, who recently resigned after being convicted of federal fraud charges.

Workman’s Senate trial was postponed after the presiding judge didn’t show up in light of the court’s ruling blocking the trial.

The Senate then asked the court to revisit the ruling. The justices last week declined.

“We believe it is a clear violation of separation of powers, a clear violation of the constitution of West Virginia,” Carmichael said. The justices “don’t get to decide whether something has been done correctly within the rules of the Legislature.”

Workman’s attorney, Marc Williams, said “it’s unfortunate that the Senate president has taken the position that courts are somehow overstepping their bounds.”

Williams noted a landmark 1803 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held “the courts should be the final arbiter of constitutional questions.

“I’m baffled as to why (Carmichael) would find that problematic,” he said.

Carmichael, a Republican, said two remaining options are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court or crafting a proposed amendment to the state constitution that impeachment powers rest solely with the Legislature.

The amendment would “clarify what’s very clear anyhow — to have the voters themselves overturn this crazy decision,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael said one factor in whether an appeal will be made is the potential cost involved to the state.

Workman, Davis, 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.

Loughry resigned earlier this month and was the third justice to leave the five-member court. Justice Menis Ketchum announced his resignation before the House of Delegates’ impeachment hearings. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her.

Both Loughry and Ketchum still face sentencing in federal court for earlier convictions, including wire fraud involving the personal use of state cars and fuel cards and mail fraud.

“Realize what has happened here,” Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said. “Much of what was sought to be addressed by those articles of impeachment has in fact resolved itself.”

Two Republicans who were appointed as Supreme Court justices after the scandal broke, former House speaker Tim Armstead and ex-Congressman Evan Jenkins, won election to continue on the bench.

Armstead will complete the term of Ketchum through 2020. Jenkins will serve through 2024, when Davis’ term ends.

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 the Republican-led legislature.

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