CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — As the legislative session continues, lawmakers are still working on resolutions that would put the judicial branch budget under the control of senators and delegates– a move that follows a series of stories by Eyewitness News about questionable spending.
In the midst of revelations about extravagant state Supreme Court spending during renovation and remodeling projects from 2009 through last year, two Republican senators were the first to introduce a joint resolution to amend the constitution, placing the judicial branch's budget under the control of the Legislature.
“Obviously Kennie, your reporting helped open the eyes of many people. And by bringing out the various issues that are going on over in the judiciary at the Supreme Court, it raised some very valid concerns about the balance of power. And about the way that the various organizations within the state operate,” Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicolas, said.
Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, said lawmakers need "to have oversight over where our money's spent, what our money's spent for and everybody needs to be accountable. Everybody needs to be responsible for what they're doing. And our people deserve that and we just felt it was the right thing, the right time to do that."
Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry cautioned against a constitutional amendment during his budget presentation to the House Finance Committee. When he attempted to repeat those remarks before the Senate Finance Committee, however, Chairman Craig Blair was having none of it.
“Chief justice, you're going to have to excuse me for a second, but this is a budget hearing. We are not discussing this bill right now. And I think you're out of line with what you're bringing forward on this. So, move past the Kansas part,” said Blair, a Republican from Berkeley County.
Boso said Loughry's remarks tell him that “he is fearful for what the voters and the taxpayers of West Virginia may potentially do to the Supreme Court when it comes to a constitutional amendment that's laying before them on a ballot come November."
Although Loughry has touted new court procedures to protect against outrageous purchases, along with an $8.5 million budget carryover from last year, which he said demonstrates fiscal restraint, the senators aren't convinced the court should remain in absolute control of the taxpayer dollars it receives.
In addition to the joint resolution offered by Sens. Boso and Cline, Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, offered his own version of the proposal, which would give lawmakers control over the court's budget.
The Senate Judiciary Committee must decide which resolution to pursue, or if elements from both can be combined.
Here are the other Eyewitness News stories that took a look at the court’s spending and purchasing practices.
Spending by the Supreme Court has prompted state auditors to notify the legislative Post-Audits Committee that they plan to audit the Supreme Court this year. Last week, a Kanawha County lawmaker, Del. Mike Pushkin, called for an investigation of Loughry to see if impeachment proceedings are warranted.
On Friday morning, Loughry, appeared before the House Finance Committee to ask for $139 million for the court's budget.