Pardon us while we scrape our outrage off the ceiling after reading the 14 articles of impeachment leveled by the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee against not one justice on the state’s Supreme Court – but against the entire lot of four who remain seated.
We were stunned, saddened and appalled that Robin Davis, Margaret Workman, Allen Loughry and Beth Walker — who were elected by the people to decide right and wrong on matters brought before the highest court in our state — could show such a poverty of good judgment in one instance after another.
The trail of political corruption runs wide and deep through this state’s history. There, indeed, seems to be no bottom to which our elected officials will not sink to enrich themselves or, as the case may be, decorate an office — and here we are once again measuring the damage done to our democratic institutions and to our state’s image.
Whether or not the justices’ transgressions rise to the level of impeachable offenses, we’ll see in the days ahead. But it would be kind to say they were tone deaf, arrogant and self-entitled and, as such, incapable of sitting in judgment of others. The gall of it all is overwhelming. Clearly, they need to go — either through impeachment and conviction or via resignation.
Consider this: While the state Legislature was cutting services to the people of our state over the past several years, while university budgets were being trimmed and tuitions hiked to make up the difference, while school districts around the state were laying off teachers and staff to make the numbers work, while the state’s National Guard was being deployed to help run our correctional facilities, while state revenues were falling off a cliff because of a decline in the coal industry, these folks were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — each — on remodeling their offices.
We kid you not. Here are the bills: Justice Davis: $500,278. Justice Loughry: $363,013. Justice Walker: $130,654. Justice Workman: $111,035.
For context, the median home value in Charleston this past year, according to the Zillow home buyers website, was $114,300; $97,000 for the entire state.
The fifth justice? Former state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is scheduled to appear for a plea hearing in federal court later this month. He will plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with an ongoing federal investigation. Ketchum has agreed to waive indictment and admit to using a state-owned vehicle and state-issued fuel card for personal travel in 2014. For the record, Ketchum’s office was renovated at a cost of $171,838. Anytime a news story mentions wire fraud, federal investigation and indictment in a single paragraph, chances are a public official has fallen off the ethics wagon of proper behavior. In this particular instance, it was an entire court.
The full House of Delegates convened Monday to consider impeachment of the not-so-fabulous four. If the House approves, the process moves to the state Senate for trial.
By early afternoon, delegates had voted 64 to 33 to adopt an article of impeachment against Justice Loughry.
In addition to failing to establish policies about remodeling state offices, the justices are being held accountable for travel budgets, computers for home use and framing of personal items — all at taxpayer expense. Several more articles alleged the justices had signed off on a policy to circumvent state law by paying senior status judges as contractors, allowing them to make more than they were allowed.
There is a $32,000 suede couch, ornate molding, framed portraits of the justices, an expensive television set behind cabinet doors, inlaid wooden floors and, in one office, rugs that cost $28,000. Call it privilege.
Justice Loughry, the poster boy for bad behavior, separately faces 23 federal charges.
The impeachment articles reflect Loughry’s decision to move an antique Cass Gilbert desk to his own home, his home use of state computer equipment, his private use of state vehicles, his use of public funds to frame personal mementos and his false statements while under oath to the House Finance Committee.
Call it theft and lying.
And while it did not meet the Judiciary Committee’s definition of an impeachable offense, we would consider Justice Walker’s use of outside counsel to write an opinion for the court — at a cost of $10,000 — as disqualifying.
Oh, yeah. The court reportedly spent $42,314 over five years on working lunches.
Call it pigs at the trough.
This cavalier disregard for the expenditure of taxpayer money is beyond troubling. It shows a wanton disregard for the state of the state — one that these justices preside over.
The West Virginia Supreme Court must be above reproach, above the slightest appearance of impropriety.
Here, rules were broken, conflicts abound and we demand accountability.
— The Register-Herald