Legislative audit says two supreme court justices used state vehicles for personal use
While Justice Menis Ketchum was using a state vehicle for four and a half years to commute from Huntington to Charleston, he was only supposed to travel to the capitol. But auditors found Ketchum also made a few trips to Virginia to play golf in his state car, and bought gasoline with his state fuel card.
"Justice Ketchum was in my office consistently every day for two weeks trying to clean up any mistakes, writing checks trying to make things right," Aaron Allred, Legislative Auditor said.
But Justice Allen Loughry was the focus of many of the audit's findings. Loughry routinely requested vehicles without saying why he needed one or where he was going.
And he kept a car for many weekends and three straight Christmas holidays while the court was not in session.
His rental car use during out-of-state trips was also criticized. Auditors say Loughry drove thousands of unnecessary miles while supposedly on court business at conferences.
"Justice Loughry made it clear to the other justices that it wasn't any of their business what he did with the state car," Allred said.
The court's chief justice cooperated with the audit and says she knows a lot of work remains for the judicial branch to regain the trust of West Virginians where spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars are concerned.
"It's going to take a long time to restore public confidence in the judicial system and that's one of my primary goals," West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman said.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael who co-chairs the Post Audit Subcommittee says the senate president says the findings only reinforce the need for voters to approve a constitutional amendment in the fall.
"To bring the legislature in control of the supreme court's budget," Carmichael said. "It's just another example that needs to pass and be adopted."
Justice Ketchum has reimbursed the state more than $1600 for gasoline charges determined to be made while he was on personal business. He's also paid back mileage money he did not qualify to receive.
Justice Loughry issued a letter saying he disagrees with the audit's findings, which include a section that says he was wrong to take home a historic Cass Gilbert desk from the capitol and not report it as a benefit. That desk has been appraised at $42,000.
Chief Justice Workman says the court has instituted several of the audit's recommendations, including tighter restrictions on the use of state-owned vehicles.