First day of impeachment proceedings in state Senate brings surprises

The first day of impeachment proceedings takes a turn when the state Senate rejects a plea deal for Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker. (WCHS/WVAH)

Before senators could settle in for the day's proceedings, House Judiciary Chair John Shott, acting as one of the case managers presenting evidence in the trial, offered up a settlement agreement that would result in censure, not impeachment, for Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker.

"We believe that it will not only serve the interest that the House and satisfy the goals that we set out," Shott said. "We believe it will be a good first step toward rebuilding the trust that we think is incredibly necessary in our judiciary system ,and we strongly urge you to give it favorable consideration."

Charleston attorney Ben Bailey is representing Workman. He said the agreement was the right way to go and the proper amount of punishment given the accusations against the two members of the state's highest court.

"We think this agreement is in the best interest of our client, both houses of the legislature, indeed all of state government and the citizens of West Virginia," Bailey said. "Most of what the House sought to achieve when it started down this road has been achieved."

Following a two-hour recess, the Senate immediately took up the settlement in the form of a resolution offered by Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump and countered by Majority Leader Ryan Ferns.

"Mr. President," Ferns said. "I question whether or not it's proper for the Senate to consider a resolution that presupposes any innocence or guilt with articles of impeachment pending without having heard any evidence."

After a conference debating the issue, Senate President Mitch Carmichael rendered his decision.

"The decision of the chair is that the senator from Ohio's point is well taken and that the resolution, that resolution is out of order," Carmichael said.

Walker and Workman will still face an impeachment trial, along with suspended Justice Allen Loughry and retired Justice Robin Davis. An attempt to dismiss the impeachment articles against Davis failed on a 19-15 bipartisan vote.

Presiding officer Paul Farrell set trial dates for each justice, with the lawyers left to work out the details for pre-trial proceedings.

Trials for all four impeached justices get under way Oct. 1 with proceedings for Justice Walker.

Chief Justice Workman steps before the Senate Oct. 15.

It is retired Justice Davis' turn Oct. 29.

And finally, suspended Justice Loughry gets his day in front of the impeachment court beginning Nov. 12. All of the trials are set to start at 9 a.m.

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