US Supreme Court asked to review W.Va. judicial impeachments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review a decision that derailed impeachment trials for West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw said the intent of Tuesday’s filing was not to seek permission to restart impeachment proceedings. He said it’s to correct legal errors in the decision.

“Should a future Legislature need to begin impeachment proceedings against an elected official who has betrayed the public trust, we need to make sure it is able to act and not have its hands tied by this defective decision,” Hanshaw said in a statement.

Justice Margaret Workman, Beth Davis, Allen Loughry and Justice Beth Walker were impeached in August over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. Some of the justices were accused of abusing their authority by failing to rein in excessive spending.

Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge at her Senate trial in October.

A week later a temporary panel of justices ruled that the impeachment efforts were a violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine and that the Legislature lacked jurisdiction to pursue the trials.

The state constitution gives the Legislature the sole power of impeachment. Hanshaw said the earlier opinion “removes virtually all of the constitutional checks and balances we have on the judicial branch of government.”

The temporary panel first issued its ruling in response to an appeal from Workman and later applied it to trials involving Davis and Loughry, who had petitioned the court to intervene. The process was officially derailed when the presiding judge didn’t show up to Workman’s Senate trial because of the decision.

The House’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court pertains specifically to Workman’s case.

Workman’s attorney, Marc Williams, said the state Supreme Court is the ultimate and final arbiter of decisions regarding the state constitution.

“I don’t see anything in their petition that would lead me to believe the court is going to take the case, or if it did, that it would reverse the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court.”

Workman remains on the Supreme Court. Walker is now chief justice. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court.

Justice Menis Ketchum retired in July before the House impeachment hearings. He pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card. Both Ketchum and Loughry face sentencing later this month.

Two Republicans who were appointed to the court after the scandal broke, former House speaker Tim Armstead and ex-Congressman Evan Jenkins, won election to continue on the bench. Armstead will complete Ketchum’s term, which ends in 2020, and Jenkins will serve out the remainder of Davis’ term, which ends in 2024.

John Hutchison was sworn in last week to fill Loughry’s spot on the court until a 2020 special election. The winner of that race will serve the remainder of Loughry’s term through 2024. Hutchison was appointed last month by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, a lifelong friend.

Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016, but the court’s impeachment scandal stirred political attacks. Some Democrats argued the court’s shakeup was a power grab by Republicans.

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