Appalachian Justice: Here's How WV Handles an Out-of-Control Supreme Court
By: BEN MARQUIS
The issue of corruption among elected officials is one that enrages many American citizens as far too often it seems that the "powers that be" are willing to let suspected corrupt officials slide or slink away quietly without ever being held accountable to the people.
However, in at least one instance it appears that won't be the case. The four sitting justices on West Virginia's state Supreme Court are collectively facing 14 counts of impeachment for alleged corrupt activities, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The 14 articles of impeachment against the justices were approved on Tuesday by the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee and include such charges as corruption, neglect of duty and "unnecessary and lavish" spending of taxpayer money, among other allegations.
The articles of impeachment will soon be submitted to the House for a vote, and if they obtain a majority will then proceed to the Senate. If two-thirds of the senators approve the impeachment articles, a trial will commence that would require another two-thirds majority for conviction, at which point the justices would be removed from the bench and barred from ever seeking public office in the state again.
"It's a sad day, and it certainly isn't a cause for celebration," Judiciary Chairman John Shott said Tuesday, according to the Gazette-Mail.
The four justices charged under the articles of impeachment, which stem from violations of the impeachable offenses listed in Section 9, Article 4 of the West Virginia Constitution, include Chief Justice Margaret Workman (four counts) and Justices Robin Davis (four counts), Allen Loughry (eight counts) and Beth Walker (two counts).
All four justices face charges of "unnecessary and lavish" spending of taxpayer money to renovate their offices. They're also accused of failing to develop and maintain court policies with regard to the use of state resources.
Davis, Loughry and Workman also face a charge of signing documents that authorized pay for senior status judges in excess of what was allowed by law.
Loughry faces additional charges that include allegedly using a state vehicle for personal travel, using state-owned computers and furniture in his home and using taxpayer money to have artwork, documents and personal photos framed.
Former Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned from his seat on the bench last month, escaped being named in the articles of impeachment by virtue of his recent resignation, which removed him from the oversight of the Judiciary Committee.
It is worth noting that Ketchum just pleaded guilty to one count of federal wire fraud. Loughry was also recently hit with a 23-count federal indictment that included 16 counts of mail fraud, three counts of making false statements to federal investigators, two counts of wire fraud and one count each of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
On top of that, Loughry - who was suspended from the bench without pay on June 8 - has also been charged with 32 counts of violating state's Code of Judicial Conduct by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission for similar charges included in the articles of impeachment, as well as for lying to lawmakers, the media and the public about his alleged conduct.
Of course, there were several lawmakers who opposed the articles of impeachment, not necessarily because they believed the justices were innocent of the charges against them, but because taking out all of the sitting justices in one fell swoop would allow Republican Gov. Jim Justice to appoint their replacements, most likely for at least a two-year term, given the close proximity and limited time-frame between now and November's elections.
Such was the argument put forward by Democrat Del. Mike Pushkin, who said he didn't like the fact that all four justices were grouped together in the articles of impeachment, as well as by Democrat Del. Barbara Fleischauer, minority chairwoman of the committee, who likened the move to an attempted "coup" against an entire branch of the state government by Republicans.
"We said this to our committee when we started, this was a no-win situation," Chairman Shott said of those accusations. "Especially in an election year, there's going to be people who will spin it however it creates the most advantage to them. That's just part of the process."
While impeaching all of the sitting justices on the state's Supreme Court at once does seem rather drastic - and certainly opens the door to partisan complaints - it nevertheless also appears to be the correct remedy in this case for holding apparently corrupt elected officials accountable for their actions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few weeks and months.
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