Delegates take issue to response
CHARLESTON — In the now-year-old saga in the impeachment of several judges of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the House of Delegates filed a response to a justice’s brief before the nation’s highest court.
Attorneys for the House filed a response to a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by Justice Margaret Workman explaining why the court should hear the case brought by the House and Senate regarding the halting of the impeachment of Workman and other state Supreme Court justices.
Dinsmore and Shohl attorney Mark Carter, representing the House, argued that the Supreme court does not have jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings.
“The reason why the judiciary does not have jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings is because they are political in nature,” Carter wrote.
An all-appointed state Supreme Court panel put a stop to Workman’s impeachment trial in a 3-2 decision in October, stating that the House did not follow their own impeachment rules adopted in June 2018 and used to impeach Workman, Justice Beth Walker and former justices Allen Loughry and Robin Davis. The court also argued that the House violated the separation of powers by citing the Canons of Judicial Ethics in several of the impeachment charges.
Carter cited a ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court which upheld the impeachment of its governor, where the state’s high court decided it had no jurisdiction over the impeachment process.
“In doing so, that court respected the fact its constitution, like West Virginia’s, reserves the ‘sole’ power of impeachment to the state House and obligates the state Senate ‘upon oath or affirmation to do justice according to law and evidence,'” Carter wrote. “As the Arizona Supreme Court faithfully applied the doctrine of separation of powers and concluded it had no authority to usurp the role of the Legislature, its constitutional framework remained intact and its republican form of government was preserved. Such was not the case in West Virginia.”
The House invoked Article 4 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Guarantee Clause, which requires the federal government to ensure states a republican form of government. In a filing May 28, Workman’s attorney Marc Williams argued that the Guarantee Clause doesn’t apply.
Carter argues, in citing the Guarantee Clause, that the U.S. Supreme Court is the right jurisdiction to look at the impact of the state Supreme Court’s decision and its constitutional repercussions.
“(The House) seeks review of the impact of that decision which has eviscerated the republican form of government previously enjoyed by the state,” Carter wrote. “That form of government was defined by three co-equal branches of government; whereas, now-as a result of the decision-the judiciary has empowered itself with primacy over the legislative branch. That is not an adequate or routine state law interpretation as it necessarily eviscerates the State’s right under the Guarantee Clause.”
The House filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court in December, followed by the Senate in March after the 2019 regular session. Neither body plans to restart impeachment proceedings against the state Supreme Court, but are only seeking a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court as to whether the state Constitution’s separation of powers between the branches was violated by the state Supreme Court’s decision.
Gov. Jim Justice called a special session June 2018 for the Legislature to start impeachment proceedings after months of reports and audits showing waste, fraud and abuse by several justices, including former justices Loughry and Menis Ketchum, both of whom were charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Ketchum resigned in July 2018 and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
In August 2018, the House adopted 11 articles of impeachment spread out between Loughry, Workman, Davis and Walker. Davis resigned the day after impeachment and Loughry was convicted of 11 charges in U.S. District Court in October.
Only Walker, who now serves as chief justice, faced an impeachment trial at the beginning of October. She was acquitted and censured in the one catch-all impeachment charge that accused all four justices of maladministration.
Workman, who was next to be tried before the Senate on her impeachment charges, filed suit before the state Supreme Court which ruled in her favor and stopped all remaining impeachments.