Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Is the Entire Supreme Court of West Virginia Getting Impeached?

Misappropriation of taxpayer funds; "unnecessary and lavish" spending; authorizing salaries over state law restrictions; misuse of state resources, including cars and computers; and even using state money to frame personal photos, documents, photos, and artwork. They sound like charges levied against corrupt congresspersons or city officials.

But nope -- those are all parts of 14 articles of impeachment filed against the four sitting justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday. (The fifth justice wasn't included, as he resigned last month.) The West Virginia House Judiciary Committee moved to impeach the four justices based on a staggering amount of financial malfeasance, including $3.7 million to renovate and decorate their offices. So, what happens if the entire court gets the boot?

No Regular Couch

The articles of impeachment charge Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis, Allen Loughry, and Beth Walker with maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and certain high crimes. Loughry, who wrote a book about political corruption in West Virginia in 2006, is the subject of eight articles of impeachment relating to his use of state vehicles for personal travel, having state furniture and computers in his home, and handing down an administrative order authorizing payments of senior status judges in excess of what is allowable in state law.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee also got a first-hand look at the lavish spending on office renovations for the justices last month, according to WVPB:

The most time -- but still only probably five or 10 minutes -- was spent in Justice Allen Loughry's office.
Delegates lingered around the infamous $32,000 couch, touching its suede fabric and commenting on the cost of the couch and the six pillows.
"It looks like a regular couch to me," Joe Altizer, counsel for the minority party, commented.
No one sat on it.

And lest you thought former justice Menis Ketchum avoided sanctions by resigning, he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud stemming from his improper use of a state vehicle. And Justice Davis' son has been charged with marijuana possession and battery in two separate incidents this year.

No Celebration

"It's a sad day, and it certainly isn't a cause for celebration," Judiciary Chairman John Shott said, regarding the articles of impeachment. And state Democrats certainly aren't celebrating. Mike Pushkin wondered whether grouping all of the justices into one set of articles of impeachment was an attempt to allow Republican Governor Jim Justice to pack the court by appointing four of the five possible replacement Supreme Court justices for at least two years on the bench.

"Now, I see an effort to capitalize on this entire affair by taking out an entire branch of government and replacing it through appointments," Pushkin said. And Judiciary Minority Chairwoman Barbara Fleischauer said the way the articles of impeachment were drafted against all sitting justices at once gave her the appearance of an attempted "coup" to let the governor appoint the court.

Before any of that happens, however, the articles of impeachment will advance to the full House of Delegates for consideration. In any case, it's not a good look for those the Mountain State entrusted with setting legal precedent.

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