Punishment

Punishment

U.S. senators pondering whether to confirm federal Supreme Court nominees have a relatively easy task. All they have to ask is whether potential justices are liberal or conservative in terms of how they interpret the Constitution.

West Virginians deciding how to vote for state Supreme Court candidates must ask another question: Is he or she a crook?

Just weeks ago, Allen Loughry was suspended from the high court after being indicted on nearly three dozen federal charges. They allege he abused his power, cheated both taxpayers and two institutions of higher learning out of money, then lied to cover up his misdeeds.

The other shoe dropped Wednesday, when Justice Menis Ketchum revealed he will leave the court.

Ketchum has not been charged with crimes. However, a legislative audit accused him of misbehavior similar in some ways to allegations against Loughry.

Like Loughry, Ketchum was criticized for the cost of renovations to his court office. The legislative audit also found he had used state vehicles for personal purposes, including trips to Virginia for golf outings. Another criticism is that Ketchum took a $2,500 grandfather clock belonging to the court.

Perhaps most disturbing, Ketchum used a state car to commute to work, but failed to list that as a fringe benefit on his federal tax return.

Ketchum later repaid the state $1,664 to cover the cost of incorrect travel reimbursement claims. He also said he plans to pay any taxes due once he receives corrected W-2 forms showing the benefit involved in having a state car to commute.

What happens to Loughry is up to a federal court.

What about Ketchum? Because he is retiring, with two years left in his term, he remains eligible for a state pension.

Ketchum received praise from some quarters for doing the right thing and resigning from the court. But should he be permitted to walk away virtually unscathed?

Not if he was guilty of intentionally breaking the law. If so, Ketchum, too, should be charged with crimes.

Time and time again, Mountain State residents have been told of outrageous misbehavior by public officials — some of whom remain on the government payroll. Even when disciplinary action is taken, it usually amounts to no more than loss of a job.

That is unacceptable. It fosters an attitude that there is no reason not to spin the dishonesty roulette wheel. Sometimes you win — but you probably will never lose.

Is it any wonder corruption is West Virginia’s unofficial state animal?

This will not end unless the guilty are punished.

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