CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia Supreme Court justice facing a 23-count federal indictment was impeached Monday for spending $363,000 on his office renovations — part of an extraordinary move by lawmakers to consider putting the entire court on trial in the Senate.
The state House of Delegates voted 64-33 to send the impeachment article, one of eight against suspended Justice Allen Loughry, to the state Senate for a trial.
The House was to consider and make recommendations on 13 other articles later Monday, including allegations Loughry lied about taking home a $42,000 antique desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch; and that Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker made excessively expensive upgrades to their offices.
Some legislators said they didn’t support impeaching any justice for wasteful spending, only for articles pertaining to lying, cheating or stealing.
But John Shott, a Mercer County Republican who chaired the House Judiciary Committee hearings that drew up the impeachment articles, asked whether there is public confidence in the court, and if not, “we need to take action to try to rebuild that trust.”
Several lawmakers noted the Supreme Court has a separate budget and is currently allowed to spend as it sees fit. But Shott said the court should spend that money wisely “and for the benefit of its citizens.”
A proposed constitutional amendment this fall would bring the state courts’ budget partly under legislative control.
Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book chronicling West Virginia political corruption, was indicted in June on 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal law enforcement, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Justice and legislative leaders have asked him to resign. Loughry has not responded and did not testify at the committee hearings.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a day that none of us really want to be here,” Delegate Tom Fast, a Republican from Kanawha County, said at the start of Monday’s session.
One impeachment article accuses Loughry of lying to the House Finance Committee in January about his involvement in his Supreme Court office renovations, including a custom-designed wooden-inlay map showing all 55 West Virginia counties embedded in the floor.
Loughry also was cited in separate articles for using state money to frame personal items at his office; the use at his home of state-owned computers and an expensive, antique desk; and using state-owned vehicles for personal use, including over holidays.
Loughry also was cited along with Workman, Davis and Walker for failing to control expenses, including more than $1 million in renovations to their individual offices, and not maintaining policies over matters such as state vehicles, working lunches and the use of office computers at home.
Loughry, Davis and Workman also were cited for authorizing senior status judges to be overpaid in violation of state law.
Justice Menis Ketchum retired and agreed to plead guilty to a federal wire fraud count involving the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards.
A special election already is set in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term. After Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice would appoint a replacement for any impeached justice to serve until the 2020 election.
Minority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee where the articles were voted on last week had tried to speed up the impeachment process in the hopes of beating an Aug. 14 deadline for arranging a special election in November if any justice is impeached. Instead, the committee took its time, even conducting a tour of the state Supreme Court offices earlier this month.
Circuit judge Paul T. Farrell has been sworn in to act as the court’s chief justice for the Senate trial.
The last time the Legislature was involved in similar proceedings was 1989, when state Treasurer A. James Manchin was impeached by the House of Delegates after the state lost $279 million invested in the bond market. Manchin resigned before the state Senate took up the impeachment measure. He was never charged and the state recovered $55 million from lawsuits against nine New York brokerage firms involved in the losses.