Acting chief justice appointed

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is preparing for impeachment by appointing a circuit judge to act as chief justice, and the newest justice has acquired legal counsel.

In a press release Thursday evening, Chief Justice Margaret Workman announced the appointment of Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Paul Farrell as an acting justice to replace Justice Allen Loughry.

Farrell, who serves as a judge in Cabell County, will also serve as acting chief justice once the state Senate receives one or all 14 articles of impeachment being considered by the House of Delegates Monday, Aug. 13.

“Court employees have received many inquiries about whether the work of the Court will continue as scheduled in the term that begins Sept. 5,” Workman said. “It will. The Court calendar is set and the docket will proceed as usual. Supreme Court Justices are Constitutionally required to keep the Court open and will continue to fulfill their Constitutional duties.”

Farrell was appointed to the Six Judicial Circuit by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2011 and was elected in 2012.

All four remaining supreme court justices, including Workman, were charged with articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee August 6. Justices Workman, Loughry, Robin Davis, and Beth Walker were charged in 14 articles of impeachment for misuse of taxpayer dollars for expensive renovations, catered lunches, using state equipment for personal uses, and violating state law for overpayment of senior status judges.

If approved by the house, the senate would sit as jury as impeachment managers from the house present the case for removing all the justices from office.

The state constitution requires the chief justice of the supreme court to preside over the impeachment trial, but since Workman is also accused in multiple articles of impeachment and the remaining justices are also facing impeachment, Ferrell’s temporary appointment to the bench would allow him to sit as acting chief justice for the impeachment process.

Justice Beth Walker, who has only been on the bench since January 2017, has hired the law firm of Hissam, Forman, Donovan, and Ritchie to represent her during the impeachment trial.

“Since joining the Court in 2017, Beth has been nothing but fair to everyone who has come before her,” said J. Zak Ritchie and Ryan Donovan in a statement. “The House of Delegates has an important job to do, and we trust that they will be equally fair to Beth in reviewing all the facts before moving forward on any articles against her.”

Loughry, whom Farrell is filling in for, was suspended without pay last month by a three-judge panel. Loughry is facing a 23-count federal indictment and a 32-count complaint from the state Judicial Investigation Commission for using his office for personal gain and lying to lawmakers and federal investigators.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned July 27, is also facing one felony count of wire fraud in a federal information brought against him July 31. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern West Virginia announced a plea deal with Ketchum, who is charged with using state vehicles and fuel cards for personal golf outings to Virginia. A plea hearing has been set for Ketchum for Aug. 23.

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