Corruption

Mountain State voters must demand honesty

Corruption has been a part of government in West Virginia for too long. For generations, it was accepted as a fact of life.

Now, however, Mountain State residents are fed up.

Two of the five members of our state’s highest court have been caught in wrongdoing. Both have been charged with crimes.

One, Justice Allen Loughry, has been suspended pending resolution of multiple criminal charges against him. Whether he will be convicted remains to be seen, but a Judicial Investigation Commission examination makes it clear he abused the public’s trust.

Another justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned his post after it was disclosed he had misused a state vehicle and state credit card, and had filed an incorrect federal income tax return. Ketchum has pleaded guilty to one federal charge, through a plea agreement.

As members of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee have learned, the court as a whole has been far from a good steward of taxpayers’ money. Millions of dollars may have been squandered in a lavish remodeling project at the court’s offices.

We suspect the lawmakers — and others looking into the justices’ behavior — have not reached the bottom of the slimy barrel yet. More unpleasant revelations may be ahead.

That is a good thing — and a warning to those who may consider running to fill the high court vacancy created by Ketchum’s resignation. About two and a half years remain in his term. During the Nov. 6 general election, West Virginians will select someone to serve out that time.

As we suggested several days ago, one sad aspect of the situation is this: Candidates for most appeals court seats are grilled regarding their political and judicial philosophies. Here in West Virginia, that is secondary. What we want to know is whether the potential jurists are honest.

There are reasons for those with larceny in their hearts to sit this one out.

For one thing, voters on Nov. 6 will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature more control over court spending.

For another, scrutiny over justices’ behavior is unprecedented. The Judicial Investigation Commission, legislators and federal authorities all have their eyes on the court.

And so do the people of West Virginia, also to an unprecedented degree. This time around, we demand honesty — and woe be unto the candidate who gets elected, then disappoints us.

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