Armstead, Hutchison reelected to West Virginia Supreme Court

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Incumbent justices Tim Armstead and John Hutchison won back their seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday, two years after an impeachment scandal involving their predecessors.

Armstead, a former Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, won a 12-year term by defeating two candidates, including former Justice Richard Neely.

Hutchison beat circuit judge Lora Dyer and attorney William Schwartz in a special election for a four-year term on the court. Hutchison was appointed in 2018 to the seat vacated by convicted former Justice Allen Loughry.

The other race was too close to call late Tuesday night. The primary serves as the general election for the state Supreme Court, whose races became nonpartisan in 2016.

Armstead, serving as chief justice this year, said restoring confidence among residents was a priority. He said the court is more open and transparent two years after lawmakers started impeachment proceedings when he was House speaker.

Neely, who served as a justice from 1972 until stepping down in 1995 to start a Charleston law practice, said he believed the court system was a mess and “isn’t getting anything done.”

Justice Margaret Workman did not seek reelection. Four candidates hoped to fill her seat for a new 12-year term: Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit, family court judge Jim Douglas, assistant prosecutor Kris Raynes and Beckley attorney Bill Wooton.

The House impeached four justices in 2018 over lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

As House speaker, Armstead recused himself from the House impeachment debate, resigned a few months later to run for a Supreme Court seat, then was named a temporary justice when Menis Ketchum stepped down before the House proceedings began.

The move fueled accusations by Democrats that the unprecedented impeachment process represented a power grab by Republicans.

Armstead won a special election later in 2018 to serve the remainder of Ketchum’s term. Former GOP Congressman Evan Jenkins also was named a temporary justice in 2018 and won a special election later that year for the seat of Robin Davis, who retired after impeachment charges were approved against her. Jenkins’ term runs through 2024.

Ketchum was sentenced last year in federal court to probation on a felony fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card. Loughry resigned in 2018 and was sentenced in 2019 to two years in prison for federal felony fraud charges.

Justice Beth Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge in a Senate trial and remains on the court. Her term runs through 2028.

The entire impeachment process was eventually derailed. The U.S. Supreme Court last October left in place a decision by five acting state Supreme Court justices that prosecuting Workman in the Senate would violate the state constitution’s separation of powers clause. That ruling was later applied to also halt impeachment proceedings against Davis and Loughry.

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