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West Virginia Supreme Court Impeachment Saga Continues as Governor Fills Two Seats


The West Virginia Supreme Court has been in disarray all summer, since an investigation revealed outrageous spending and other improprieties by the five justices. To recap, Justice Allen Loughry was indicted by the US Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia for misuse of public funds and lying to federal investigators. His colleague, Menis Ketchum, agreed to plead guilty to similar financial crimes, and resigned his seat on the Court. Loughry has refused to resign even with a suspended law license. Then, he and his three remaining colleagues were the subject of eleven articles of impeachment passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Due to West Virginia law, in order for empty supreme court seats to be on November’s ballots, they must be vacant 80 days prior to the election; otherwise, the seats are subject to appointment by the governor to finish out the term of the seat’s predecessor. Ketchum’s resignation in July ensured his seat would be given to the voters to fill this fall, but impeachment proceedings in the House did not begin until late July, and did not conclude until the 13th of August- one day before the 80 day deadline- a delay House Democrats believed to be intentional in order to ensure four conservative court appointments by the Republican governor.

With a scathing floor speech on the 14th of August, Justice Robin Davis tendered her resignation as well, effective the 13th, putting a second seat on the ballot. But there are almost three months until the election, and we are short two justices. Because impeachment proceedings must now move over to the senate side, we are nowhere near finished deciding the fate of the remaining three.

State law requires the chief justice of the court to preside over the senate impeachment trial. If the chief justice is unable to do so, the chief is to appoint another justice. With Loughry unable to fulfill his duties due to his suspended law license, Justice Margaret Workman was named chief, and appointed circuit judge Paul Farrell to preside over the trial. Since Workman is one of those under impeachment, she has effectively chosen her own judge.

But there is other business that the Court must attend to before the election rolls around in three months, like the bid by Don Blankenship to get his name on the ballot in the US senate race, despite his loss in the primary. So, Governor Justice announced that the seats vacated by Davis and Ketchum would be filled by appointment.

Over 20 West Virginia lawyers and lower court judges put their names in for consideration, and a list of 9 finalists was presented to the governor — including Evan Jenkins, who currently represents West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Tim Armstead, who until last week was the Speaker of the West Virginia House, the very same body that advanced the articles of impeachment. To the surprise of no one, these two prominent Republican politicians were Republican Governor Jim Justice’s choices to hold the Supreme Court seats until the election in November. Both have announced their intentions to run to keep their seats. The appointment of Jenkins is especially noteworthy; he also lost in the senate primary in May, and now will have a hand in deciding whether co-loser Blankenship gets on the ballot.

In his speech announcing his choices, the governor attempted no pretense about his intention to fill the seats with conservatives. In doing so, he has no doubt cemented the opinions of those who find the impeachment debacle to be an orchestrated coup by a Republican legislature to overthrow and take command of an entire branch of state government.

Democrats, for their part, initially favored impeachment. Delegate Mike Pushkin tried as early as January to investigate Loughry for impeachment, a proposal state senate majority leader Mitch Carmichael called the “single dumbest, most ridiculous political stunt” he’d ever heard of.

But once the criminal charges were filed, impeachment talk gained momentum. Though Democrats advocated moving only toward removal of the two criminally charged justices, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, the majority delegates surprised the Democrats in early August with articles against every member of the court.

In doing so, Republicans have positioned themselves quite advantageously, especially if Jenkins and Armstead are successful in their campaign bids. They control the senate, too, and only need a 2/3 vote to adopt the articles and move on to an impeachment trial. With public outrage in the state still simmering over the extravagances paid for with their dimes, a 2/3 vote should come easily

Beginning with the 2016 election cycle, West Virginia switched to non-partisan judicial elections. The governor had the opportunity to act in the same spirit in his appointment choices, but chose two decidedly partisan politicians from his own party instead.

While it’s too early to know how the impeachment trial will turn out, it seems evident that Loughry will not be able to serve anytime soon, or likely ever again. His criminal charges make his impeachment and removal are, practically, a foregone conclusion.

Also facing impeachment is Margaret Workman, a Democrat who has served on the Court for 20 years (though not consecutively). She faces allegations of “maladministration” and for facilitating the overpayment of “senior status judges” who fill in when necessary in circuit courts around the state.

Lastly, Justice Beth Walker, the newest elected member of the Court and a Republican, faces only one charge, that of maladministration and is seen by some as the least likely to be removed.

The future of the high court is still unclear, but it’s clearly still ugly here in West Virginia, and not looking to improve any time soon.

Senior Editor

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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18 thoughts on “West Virginia Supreme Court Impeachment Saga Continues as Governor Fills Two Seats

  1. So… there are two issues/problems.

    First that the W-Virginia Supreme Court was corruptly spending public funds (to the point where Supreme law licenses are removed). That’s a problem bad enough that impeachment seems like the correct solution.

    2nd that there are politicians taking advantage of this. In other situations we’d call this court packing, but given the previous problem I’m reluctant to call it that.

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        • “For those conservatives with ears to hear, cynicism is the highest norm. What cannot be attained by argument nor evidence nor popular support shall be procured by pure power. And so it came to be that a world of norms and institutions was shattered, and conservatives stood upright in its wreckage.”

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          • So it’s okay then?

            Of course not, but I’m cynical enough that I expect politicians to behave politically.

            Just within the normal parameters of power politics?

            “Supremes behaving badly” is, by itself, REALLY awful and well outside the normal parameters of power politics. Bad enough that submitting the problem to a grubby political process is probably the lesser evil.

            Needing to replace the entire court is an extreme corner case where misdeeds are expected, it’s up there with “Party X gets a super majority and the Presidency”.

            It’d be a seriously good thing if team red and team blue would play nice, even in the context of these corner cases, but we don’t know how to remove politics from politics.

            And you would feel the same if the party affiliations were reversed?

            “would”? There are plenty of states right now were the Dems have too much power and use it for bad ideas, including packing the court with “their” people. I try to not get spun up over bad ideas in States where I’m never going to live. Further, my impression is a lot of Southern states are basically banana republics at a state level.

            Big picture is I expect a number of states to go bankrupt in the next few decades because of long term political malpractice. I don’t know enough about W. Virginia to say whether they should be included in that expectation or whether this specific instance should be part of that. This could be an example of them digging their way out by removing bad judges, it could be an example of them digging further down by installing bad judges, it could even be both.

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      • The timing issues don’t seem as important to me.

        Rod Blagojevich was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, impeached on Jan. 9, 2009 (31 days from arrest) and removed by the upper chamber on Jan. 29, 2009 (51 days from arrest).

        Allen Loughry was arrested June 20, 2018, impeached on August 13, 2018 (54 days from arrest), and to be removed at some later date. If the legislature had moved as quickly as they had against Blago, they would have removed him three days before the deadline, but the WV legislature also had to deal with what to with all of the Justices. Seems like considering impeachment of the entire bench is a pretty big deal, which should take more time.

        Still, I would never vote to retain the House Speaker who orchestrated the impeachment process and benefited from it.

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        • I don’t understand this. It’s probably not you but me.

          The timing of the en masse (en banc?) impeachment correlates to a structural constraint determining whether those justices are elected or appointed by Da Gubna. It has been suggested by people within the process that the timing was orchestrated for just that purpose by a congress controlled by Republicans (two of whom are now appointed temp justices). How does a quick impeachment of Blago provide insights into WV Republican decision-making regarding when to file those articles? Seems like it, well, not begs the relevant questions but dismisses them entirely.

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        • News about the lavish spending first broke back in maybe November of 2017 and the investigation started into that then. Then they found out about the antique Cass Gilbert desk, belonging to the state, at his home. Dem Delegate Pushkin floated a bill in January calling for investigation and possible impeachment. The Republican leadership slapped him down hard, as indicated in the piece. By spring the court had been audited and the legislature knew everything. Still did nothing.
          Criminal charges didn’t come until June and July. If that’s why they waited, then why impeach the whole court and not just the two charged? If it was the spending, then why wait until mid-summer?
          It’s clear to me why. Especially with the House speaker now sitting in one of those seats.

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        • One point to consider here, and Em can speak to it better than I can, but this current edition of the legislature has had issues with doing things procedurally. I don’t mean like strategy-I mean like just doing votes right, properly filling out paperwork, parliamentary procedure-the actual machinations of the legislature. It’s not a well run group at the moment on a functional level so some of it is just good old-fashioned incompetence. In fact, I have to look but they even managed to screw up the impeachment articles vote and have to fix that when they come back before they can start proceedings.

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