There have been some developments in the saga of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the four remaining members of which were the subject of impeachment proceedings in the West Virginia Legislature this week.
Members of the House of Delegates worked into the wee hours of the morning, debating and voting on each of 14 individual articles of impeachment of the state’s high court. If you haven’t been following, the 5 justice panel has been under fire for lavish spending of tax payer money for luxury renovations of their chambers, personal use of state-owned vehicles and gas cards, among other things. One justice, Allen Loughry, stands indicted by federal prosecutors for his improper use of state cars and for lying to investigators; another, Menis Ketchum, has agreed to plead guilty to similar federal charges. Ketchum resigned from the court a few weeks ago, while Loughry has refused to do the same.
Now, the House has voted to advance articles of impeachment against Loughry and his three remaining colleagues, Justices Robin Davis, Margaret Workman, and Beth Walker. But in an unexpected turn of events, Davis appeared before the House this morning and announced her retirement, effective yesterday.
What may appear to be a simple matter of saving face is also a sharp political maneuver.
West Virginia law requires that a seat be vacated 90 days before the general election in order to be on the ballot. That deadline was today. But Davis made her resignation effective on the 13th, which means her seat will be up for a vote in November along side that of Ketchum. If the the other three justices are successfully impeached, however, those seats will be filled by the governor and serve for at least the next two years.
The minority Democrats have been vocal about their dismay over what they see as delay by the Republicans in order to reach this result. Minority Delegate Mike Pushkin called for impeachment of Loughry as early as February of this year, a suggestion shot down by the Senate President Mitch Carmichael as “the single dumbest most ridiculous political stunt that I’ve seen in my time at the Legislature.” Democrats say this was merely a delay to ensure the seats would be filled by the Republican governor rather than put to a vote, and have been critical of the decision to impeach all remaining justices, rather than only those who face criminal charges.
Remaining Justices Workman and Walker each issued statements that they will not resign, but intend to fight their impeachment.
The articles will move on to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate adopts the charges, a full trial will be held. In the meantime, the citizens of the Mountain State await the next episode of the drama, and the fate of its highest tribunal.