The West Virginia House of Delegates voted on Monday to impeach the state’s entire Supreme Court, a remarkable move occasioned by reports of extravagant spending by the court’s five members, one of whom resigned in July.
Of the four impeached justices, one, Allen H. Loughry II, also faces 23 federal counts of fraud, witness tampering, lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 405 years in prison and a fine of $5.75 million. He pleaded not guilty and was suspended without pay in June.
The impeachment charges against Loughry, who was the chief justice until February, are most severe, included lying to the House Finance Committee and moving an antique desk appraised at $42,000 to his home. He was also accused of “unnecessary and lavish spending” to renovate his office in the state capitol in Charleston, a charge also leveled against Robin Davis. Davis and Margaret Workman, the chief justice, were charged with approving the payment of senior judges in excess of the state’s legal limit.
Just before 11 p.m., Monday lawmakers defeated an amendment that would have cleared Beth Walker of wrongdoing, instead accusing all four judges of failing to develop guidelines for the use of public resources, including on court vehicles and gas mileage and office furniture and computers.
Members of the Republican-controlled House decided that these actions constituted corruption, maladministration, incompetency, neglect of duty and potential criminal behavior — impeachable offenses under Article IV, Section 9 of the West Virginia Constitution.
The charges, mostly approved on rough party lines, now go to the state Senate for trial, where a two-thirds vote is required for conviction. Republicans control 22 of 34 seats in the chamber.
The approval of 11 articles of impeachment, of 14 under consideration, capped a marathon day in which lawmakers mulled clearing the state’s entire top court and allowing Gov. Jim Justice, who switched parties and became a Republican after taking office last year, to name interim judges. The court, officially the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, comprises five justices elected to 12-year terms.
“This is one of the saddest days in my 34 years in the legislature,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, a Republican, who presided over the proceedings. “It has become clear that our Supreme Court has breached the public trust and lost the confidence of our citizens. This somber action today is an essential step toward restoring the integrity of our state’s highest court.”
House Democrats argued that the full impeachment sweep was intended to grant the Republican governor unilateral power over remaking the court, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. State law says that a governor may appoint a replacement — with voters not weighing in until the following election cycle, in this case, 2020 — if a judge leaves the court within 84 days of a general election, and with more than two years left in his or her term. Tuesday marks the 84-day deadline.
Elections to the state Supreme Court became formally nonpartisan in 2015, but each justice remains tied to a given party. Workman and Davis, as well as former justice Menis E. Ketchum II, were elected as Democrats before the 2016 contest. Loughry was elected as a Republican, and Walker, who is a Republican, was elected in a nonpartisan race in 2016.
Read more about the federal indictment against Loughry and the context of alleged corruption on West Virginia’s top court in this Washington Post story from last week.