Justice calls for special session

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and leadership of the West Virginia Legislature called Monday for a special session to determine whether impeachment proceedings should be brought against Justice Allen Loughry and possibly other justices of the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

This call comes after the Legislature met in interim meetings to discuss the impeachment process and after legislative leaders were able to meet with Justice to discuss the rare constitutional proceeding.

The special session will convene today at noon at the state Capitol in Charleston. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, announced the call for a special session in a joint release Monday afternoon.

“It was decided that, in order to ensure that any potential impeachment investigation of proceedings would comply with the requirements of the Constitution and due process of the law is followed, a special session is vital to achieve that goal,” the release said. “These types of proceedings are extremely rare, and it is critical that the proper procedures be followed given the serious and historical nature of the situation.”

The House Judiciary Committee will take the lead on investigating the state’s High Court and possibly presenting articles of impeachment to the full House. Delegate John Shott of Mercer County, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, explained how the process will proceed.

“It will be the direction of the House for the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation to determine if there is ample grounds that fall within the categories described by the constitution to seek impeachment of one or more of the justices,” Shott said.

“The articles would spell out those charges. They would be presented to the full House and the full House will vote on them charge by charge. It would require a majority vote to adopt one of the articles. Assuming any one of those pass, they would be sent to the Senate for trial at some later date.”

Shott said there was no way to determine how long the impeachment process might last.

“It’s difficult to tell,” Shott said. “We want to do it right. It’s only been done once and there are not any hard and fast rules.”

A joint concurrent resolution is being worked on that would allow most of the Legislature to recess except for House Judiciary Committee members. The resolution would allow the committee to set its own schedule. When the committee is ready to report its recommendations, the Legislature would be called back into session.

“We have to determine what charges fit within the conditions of the Constitution, which is not the same as criminal charges nor is it the same as what the JIC (Judicial Investigation Commission) came up with,” Shott said. “We have to determine what evidence is needed to prove those charges and make sure we have that evidence before we present that to the full House.”

Loughry, a Tucker County native, was charged in a 22-count federal indictment last week, ranging from alleged mail and wire fraud, to witness tampering and lying to federal investigators. He was suspended without pay after the JIC brought similar charges. That JIC proceeding is on hold while the federal case moves forward. Loughry pleaded not guilty Friday.

This will be only the second time the Legislature attempted to bring impeachment charges against a state elected official. The first time, against Democratic State Treasurer A. James Manchin, happened in 1989. He resigned before he could be tried by the Senate.

“We have been able to talk to someone who was a manager of the impeachment of A. James Manchin,” Shott said. “He brought us a large volume of materials and we’re going to go through those.”

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, recused himself from the impeachment proceedings. The House Speaker, who is finishing up his last term as a delegate, has mentioned the possibility of running for the Supreme Court in the near future.

“I have not decided whether I will seek such a position regardless of whether such position would be up for election in 2020 or would become open at an earlier time,” Armstead said. “However, the process followed by the Legislature in relation to any impeachment process must be free from even the appearance of any conflict.”