Impeachment Net Widens in West Virginia

Impeachment Net Widens in West Virginia

The implosion of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals continues today as the state House of Delegates meets to debate the 14 Articles of Impeachment presented by the Republican majority. The Court has been under fire for several months, with two justices facing federal criminal charges, one of whom has resigned from the bench. The Articles of Impeachment introduced today are against every remaining member of the court, including the three justices not facing criminal charges, implicating among other things hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation to their individual offices, and the circumvention of state law in payment for temporarily-sitting judges around the state.

The so-called “senior status” judges, retired judges who fill in for circuit judges around the state when necessary due to illness or conflict, have an annual legislative salary cap of $126,000.  According to the Articles, some senior-status judges reached that cap. Rather than appoint some other senior-status judge, the justices allowed the judges to be “contractors”, receiving 1099 forms rather than W-2s to circumvent the salary cap.

The impeachment articles also included allegations of “unnecessary and lavish” waste of tax payer money relating to the office renovations. The chambers of Justice Robin Davis underwent a $500,000 remodel; Justices Margaret Workman’s and Beth Walker’s over $100,000 each. In addition, Justice Walker allegedly paid outside counsel $10,000 to write an opinion for her, despite the availability of clerks and counsel at the Court. That outside counsel is now employed at the court. Justice Workman was also accused of unnecessarily hiring into an I.T. position an individual who worked on her campaign.

The House must now vote on the articles of impeachment. A simple majority is required in order to send the articles to the Senate side.

Like any other political quagmire, there is partisan antagonism at play here. House minority Democrats expressed dismay when their Republican counterparts showed up today with the pre-drafted articles of impeachment, a document apparently prepared in secret and after hours without Democrat input. Without comment on the legitimacy of the allegations, some Dems see the move as an attempt by the republican majority to take over the Court, based on the laws governing how unexpectedly vacant court seats are filled. Of the three justices currently on the bench, only one is a Republican. Beginning in 2016, West Virginia switched from partisan to non-partisan judicial elections.)

Under state law, the governor appoints judges to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. If the unexpired term is for more than two years, the seat is up for grabs at the next general election. All four remaining justices (including the one facing federal indictment but refusing to resign) have unexpired terms of more than two years. However, if a vacancy occurs less than 84 days before the general election, then the appointee completes the term.  The 84th day before the next general election is August 14th — chances of completing impeachment proceedings against three justices in one week are slim to none. That would mean that of the five seats, only the one vacated by Justice Menis Ketchum last week will be at stake in November’s election, with the other four seats subject to gubernatorial appointment and carrying over for the next two years.

Partisanship aside, the current condition of the state’s high court is an embarrassment that cannot stand. In an ideal situation, the three justices not currently suspended from the practice of law and still eligible for judgeship would face off in a special election against a field of candidates, and let the public decide whether they should continue to have the privilege of their positions. But that’s not how it is designed.

For now, West Virginians have to depend on the legislature to determine the fate of our Supreme Court — and hope they do so with integrity and minimal consideration of partisan interests.


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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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29 thoughts on “Impeachment Net Widens in West Virginia

  1. “Like any other political quagmire, there is partisan antagonism at play here. House minority democrats expressed dismay when their republican counterparts showed up today with the pre-drafted articles of impeachment, a document apparently prepared in secret and after hours without democrat input.”

    This is a bugbear of mine so sorry but it should be “after hours without Democratic input.” I am a Democrat. I am a member of the Democratic Party. There is no such thing as the Democrat Party except as a sneer done by the right-wing.

    Otherwise this is pretty bad. In California, lawyers generally write (Proposed) orders, at least at the trial court level. A judge might or might not change these proposed orders. I don’t know if this is true for Appeals level or higher decisions though. Probably not. Is this not the case in West Virginia? The cap on senior judge’s salaries seems silly to me if there is a shortage.

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    • “democrat input” = “input from Democrats”. With a side of West Virginian / Maritime Canadian vernacular not being exactly *identical* to middle-upper-class NY standard, I suspect, even if we do a pretty good job verbally passing most of the time.

      For someone whose typos I remember fixing so many of in edits back in the day, that is a bit harsh on a writer putting out timely content and a copy editor (me) who is more than a bit under the weather today.

      I’m going to not fix it, just to bugbear you.

      Sorry/not sorry.

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    • I don’t care about the typo correction. It was just an oversight.
      As for the rest, I don’t get what the orders have to do with it? And these are not senior judges, they are senior status judges. They are retired and fill-in when a circuit court judge is unable to preside. The salary cap is the same as the legislatively set salary of sitting Circuit Court judges. They don’t want the retired senior status judges making more than full time active judges.
      Also, from what I heard during the hearings today, there is no evidence that there is a shortage of senior status judges to choose from. Seems to be more an allegation of playing favorites.

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  2. Maybe I need to peruse the federal indictment, but “unnecessary and lavish” spending to renovate offices doesn’t seem like a criminal offense(*). And since traditionally the legislature controls the pocketbook, I am wondering if the legislature isn’t the responsible party for that.

    I’m generally supportive of the legislature being more active in impeachment type proceedings that are not based upon disagreements with judicial opinions. But some of this stuff looks like the kind of things that would typically involve some degree of legislative oversight.

    (*) My former congressman is being indicted by the feds for furnishing his capitol hill office in the style of downtown abbey. The indictment has run into some legal issues because its contested as to whether it relies upon Congressional rules that only Congress has the right to enforce. The Court of Appeals has ruled that it must go to trial first to determine what the evidence of criminal conduct is, which I find to be troubling.

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  3. Amazing stuff.

    Democrats expressed dismay when their Republican counterparts showed up today with the pre-drafted articles of impeachment, a document apparently prepared in secret and after hours without Democrat input. Without comment on the legitimacy of the allegations, some Dems see the move as an attempt by the republican majority to take over the Court,

    That’s about par for the course with the GOP anymore. Their cynicism is breathtaking.

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        • Supreme Court Judges who spend lavishly, or otherwise steal from the taxpayer, while the opposition has control of impeachment proceedings. Especially if one or more of those judges lean left (and a quick reading of Bios suggests that one or more do).

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                • The rules are weird. The seat that was resigned will be on the ballot in November. Any vacancy with more than two years left in the (12 yr) term is supposed to be on the next general election ballot- but only if there are at least 84 days left before the election. Unless all four other justices are officially impeached by the 14th (7 days-not happening), yes, Gov. Justice (R) gets to appoint them.
                  Here’s the thing: Dems in the legislature have been asking for an investigation and possible impeachment for months and were voted down by the Republican majority- until now, when it’s clearly too late to meet that deadline to get the seats on the ballot.
                  I don’t believe the governor is under investigation.

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                  • Another question: who decides the constitutionality of impeaching the entire (remaining) SC bench if it were challenged? And are the Dems challenging?

                    Sorry for the questions, but this is so weird. It’s like a banana republic coup.

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                    • Good question. The Fourth Circuit maybe? I honestly don’t know.
                      Personally I think some of the articles of impeachment are weak (some were already voted down- my piece will need updating). I am not sure it will make it past the full legislature.
                      The Dems can’t really challenge it, as they’ve been yelling impeachment for months- just not for the entire bench. But they were all doing a lot of the same things, just that only two were at the criminal level.

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                      • In a word, yes. As the Dems slowly lost their overwhelming majority in recent years and the partisanship grew, it has become ugly.
                        I don’t know if you’ve followed along, but this mess with the court started with a grudge by a fired court administrator.
                        There was the election of “democrat” Jim Justice, who was a D for all of five minutes before he filed to run and promptly switched to R within months of election.
                        But the corruption goes back decades, with everyone from election officials to a former governor to circuit court judges seeing prison over the years.

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                    • Impeachments are entirely political; there is very unlikely to be any judicial review. During the Blagojevich impeachment, his criminal defense lawyer complained about the procedural irregularities for the first few days, and then went back to Chicago to prepare for the criminal trial in a forum that was familiar to him.

                      Part of the explanation is that public offices are not considered to be property interests of the office holder, so they cannot be denied due process. I don’t think the officers have a right to be heard or anything, other than meet the required vote thresholds.

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  4. PD Shaw: Maybe I need to peruse the federal indictment, but “unnecessary and lavish” spending to renovate offices doesn’t seem like a criminal offense(*).And since traditionally the legislature controls the pocketbook, I am wondering if the legislature isn’t the responsible party for that.
    .

    The legislature does not have any oversight of the judicial budget.
    The indictment is for personal use of a state owned car and credit card and for lying to federal investigators. I wrote about it here: https://ordinary-times.com/2018/06/21/123950
    And here:
    https://ordinary-times.com/2018/07/31/a-second-west-virginia-justice-faces-federal-charges/

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  5. Elected judges continues to be a horrible idea. Judges should be appointed or better yet nominated by panel that consists of the proper interested authorities. Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee seems to be the best way to select judges for a democracy. It allows for the government, opposition, and interested lay people to have their say and seems to get a decent level of quality. You also need to pay judges well. Corruption usually stems from low pay.

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