CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — A West Virginia House panel resumed historic proceedings Thursday examining the possibility of impeachment for state Supreme Court justices with an auditor detailing some improper vehicle use and insufficient recordkeeping.
Del. John Shott, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, R-Mercer, outlined the rules for the proceedings and said the committee will vote to impeach, or not to impeach or to censure. He also cautioned the committee to avoid a sense of urgency because the court does not meet again until September.
Coverage from the meeting Thursday morning can be viewed below in three parts.
The committee’s resumption of its work occurs a day after Justice Menis Ketchum said he would be retiring and resigning from the court effective July 27. Shott said the committee now would not consider a case against Ketchum in light of his resignation.
The state Supreme Court has been rocked by controversy after Eyewitness News iTeam investigative stories that revealed questionable spending and auditor reports that lambasted the court over its practices.
Suspended Justice Allen Loughry has been indicted on 22 federal charges and is facing allegations that he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
At Thursday’s committee meeting, Shott said if the House does recommend impeachment for any of the justices, two-third of the Senate, or 23 of 34 senators, would have to vote in favor of impeachment for it to pass. He said the House could determine what standard had to be met to recommend impeachment, but he believes the Senate will use the “clear and convincing evidence standard.”
The first witness to testify before the committee was Justin Robinson, acting director of the legislative post-audit division. He talked about the use of state and rental vehicles from the justices.
The first line of questioning concerned Loughry's use of the court’s vehicle reservation system. Loughry did not provide the destination for his trips about 70 percent of the time – 148 out of 212 days. There were three years Loughry reserved a state vehicle for the Christmas holiday.
Robinson noted that because of excessive mileage on some trips in which Loughry used rental vehicles auditors believed that many of the miles driven were for personal use. He said Loughry disagreed with the auditors’ report and made no effort to reimburse the state. He also said Loughry did not declare
the use of state vehicles as a taxable fringe benefit on his W2 form.
Meanwhile, lawmakers also heard about Justice Robin Davis' use of state vehicles. She reserved vehicles 75 times from 2011 to 2018, with some instances where no destination was given.
Robinson said a second audit report found minimal use of state vehicles by Justices Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker and no evidence of personal use or misuse.
The audit report noted that when the field work was done to investigate the travel of the justice’s the court had no formal travel policies, other than making reservations on a calendar log. The court has since implemented procedures.
A second person, Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred, also was called to testify before the committee. He said auditors were aware of allegations that Loughry had a Cass Gilbert desk moved to his home. Allred said his understanding is that Loughry, who had the desk as a law clerk before he was elected to the state Supreme Court, asked the court’s director of facilities to have it moved to his house.
Allred said bills paid by the state show that a moving company was paid to make a delivery to Loughry’s house and then to the state’s warehouse. He said he did not have specific evidence whether that move involved the Cass Gilbert desk.