A closer look at the articles of impeachment

CHARLESTON — With every justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals impeached and facing trial in the state Senate, every article of impeachment could mean one or more justices could be removed from office.

The House passed 11 out of 14 articles of impeachment prepared by the House Judiciary Committee nearly 50 days after being called into special session by Gov. Jim Justice June 26 to look into all the justices on the supreme court.

At the time the special session was gaveled in, there were five supreme court justices on the bench: Allen Loughry, Menis Ketchum, Robin Davis, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker.

Now, Loughry is suspended without pay pending the outcome of a federal indictment, Ketchum resigned July 27 and is facing a federal charge after agreeing to a plea deal, and Davis resigned Tuesday. Only Workman and Walker remain as active justices, and Workman appointed Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to fill in for Loughry.

While the state Senate prepares to gavel in Monday, Aug. 20, here is a look at each article of impeachment and how the votes came down.

OFFICE RENOVATIONS

Articles one, two, 12, and 13 deal with $1.5 million in office renovations and furnishings to the offices of Loughry, Davis, Walker, and Workman. Much of the debate on these articles concerned the court’s budgetary authority.

While many of the lawmakers found the waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars alarming, some argued that since the court has constitutional authority over its budget, they did not violate state code or the constitution. A constitutional amendment on the November ballot would give budgetary oversight back to the executive and legislative branches.

“Like the vast majority of you and many West Virginians, I find many of these purchases offensive,” said Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell. “I find them to be outrageous, and I find them to be out of touch with our citizens. You might think this constitutional grant of unfettered authority unwise. I’ll submit to you the appropriate remedy to fix that wrong lies in the hands of the voters.”

Loughry was charged in article one with spending more than $363,000 on office renovations. This includes $31,924 for a blue suede couch and $33,750 on wood flooring with a wooden medallion of the State of West Virginia. The article was adopted 64-33.

In article two, Davis was charged with spending more than $500,000 on office renovations and furnishings. This included $20,500 for an oval rug, a $8,000 desk chair, and more than $23,000 for design services. The vote was even closer on article two, with 56 for and 41 against.

When lawmakers got to articles 12 and 13, they reversed course. Article 12 charged Walker with spending $131,000 on office renovations, including $27,000 in furnishings and wallpaper. Some lawmakers didn’t think that spending $131,000 met the threshold for extravagant spending when compared to Loughry and Davis.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, voted against all articles dealing with spending. After attempting to recuse himself from voting on articles pertaining to Walker due to being a donor to her campaign, Kelly also said that the office expenditures didn’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses.

“It’s idiotic, but it’s not against the law,” Kelly said. “There is no precedent. There is no code. There is no statute that comes back and says ‘this is illegal.’ It’s not there. We can fabricate it, we can think about it, but it’s not there.”

Article 12 was rejected 51-44 with many Democrats joining the majority party in voting against it. After the vote on article 12, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, moved to withdraw article 13. This article charged Workman with spending $111,000 in office renovations. Fifty-six members of the House voted to withdraw the article.

OVERPAYMENT OF JUDGES

In articles four through seven, Workman, Davis and Loughry were charged with a scheme to pay senior status judges more than what state code allowed.

While serving at various times as chief justice between 2011 and 2017, Loughry, Workman, and Davis appointed senior status judges — retired judges and justices who fill in for other judges during illnesses and vacancies. These judges are not allowed to make more than a sitting judge — $126,000 per state code.

Davis, Workman and Loughry are accused of circumventing the law by making the judges contract employees, allowing the judges to earn more than what state code allowed. Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, voted against these articles.

“I do not think this is clearly illegal,” Fleischauer said. “I do not think the Legislature has the power to do this, because the power that is given to us is given to us by the Constitution. I disagree that this is a valid article of impeachment. I think it’s confusing. I don’t think we should be impeaching people about something that is confusing.”

Workman and Davis were both charged in article four, which passed 62-34. Davis was charged individually in article five, which was adopted 61-35. Workman was charged in article six, which passed 63-33. In article seven, Loughry was charged, but also accused of crafting an administrative order in an attempt to make overpaying senior status judges legal despite state code. The article passed 51-45.

FOCUS ON LOUGHRY

Articles three, eight, nine and 10 all focus on Loughry — the catalyst for the impeachment proceedings.

Loughry is facing a 25-count federal indictment. On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia added two more wire fraud charges to bring the total of federal charges from 23 to 25.

Loughry is accused of several counts of wire fraud, as well as obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and lying to investigators. The state Judicial Investigation Commission also charged Loughry in a 32-count complaint.

In article three, Loughry is accused of taking an antique Cass Gilbert desk — purchased by the famous Capitol architect when the supreme court was first constructed — to his home for personal use. State code prohibits original Capitol furnishing from being removed from the building. The article was passed unanimously 97-0.

Article eight accuses Loughry of using state vehicles and fuel cards for his own personal use. Legislative audits, testimony during impeachment proceedings, and the federal indictment all accuse Loughry of not logging destinations, claiming mileage reimbursement under false pretenses, and for using the court’s fleet of Buicks for personal trips when the court was not in session. The article was adopted overwhelmingly in a 96-0 vote.

Loughry’s use of state computers at his home was the focus of article nine. During impeachment testimony, the court’s former director of technology confirmed installing several computers at Loughry’s home. When servicing the computers, the court’s IT staff found video games and family photos on the computes. That article also passed 96-0.

The final article solely on Loughry accused the justice of lying under oath to the House Finance Committee during budget hearings last winter. When asked about his level of involved in his office renovations, Loughry told committee members he had no involvement, blaming former court administrator Steve Canterbury for the lavish spending.

Testimony and evidence, including a drawing done by Loughry, confirmed that Loughry was intimately involved in his office renovations. The article passed 94-2, with delegates Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, and Tom Fast, R-Fayette, voting against the article. Article 11, which accused Loughry of having his personal photos and other items framed at taxpayer expense, was withdrawn.

THE FINAL ARTICLE

Article 14 was aimed at all the sitting justices and the court as a whole. The article accuses Loughry, Workman, Davis, and Walker of not implementing policies and controls that would have caught the issues laid out in the other articles.

The entire court was accused of not having travel policies prior to 2016, not reporting taxable fringe benefits to the IRS, providing no supervision of spending and purchasing card use, having no policy on home offices, having no inventory system and not putting projects out for bid. The article passed 51-44, even after an attempt by some Republicans to remove Walker from that impeachment charge.

MAKING HISTORY

With the 11 articles passed over the course of 18 hours on Monday, the House made state history for not only impeaching one justice, but all four justices. Many of the articles had overwhelming support, while some votes were closer. At least one delegate, Republican Frank Deem of Wood County, only voted on the first three articles before retiring for the day.

Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, presided over Monday’s floor session after House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, recused himself. Overington is retiring after this year, and what should the end of a long career in public service has been tarnished by the actions of the supreme court.

“This is one of the saddest days in my 34 years in the Legislature,” Overington said. “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.”

COMMENTS