West Virginia judicial panel says Justice Allen Loughry violated Code of Judicial Conduct

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission says state Justice Allen Loughry violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. It filed a formal statement of charges Wednesday with the state Supreme Court. (West Virginia Supreme Court)

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission said it determined that probable cause exists to formally charge state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Now the Judicial Disclipinary Counsel has recommended that Loughry be suspended without pay. He has 30 days to file a response.

The formal statement of charges, filed Wednesday, lists 32 charges that it said Loughry violated. The Judicial Investigation Commission said that formal discipline is appropriate based on these findings.

Loughry repeatedly denied involvement in the renovation of his office even though Supreme Court records show he had a heavy hand in the work, the complaint said.

Meanwhile, it also said Loughry kept secret a December federal subpoena served on the Supreme Court. Loughry was replaced as chief justice in February after the justices received another subpoena and found out about the first one.

"The commission finds that there is probable cause to believe that Justice Loughry engaged in a pattern of lying and using his public office for private gain," the complaint said.

On Thursday, an administrative order filed at the Supreme Court indicated that all five justices - Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Robin Davis, Menis Ketchum , Loughry and Elizabeth Walker - have voluntarily recused themselves from participating in the case involving Loughry. The order also names Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit to serve as acting chief justice in the case and directs her to appoint four other acting justices to preside with her.

Below is the full document listing the charges:

Here is the motion to suspend Loughry:

Loughry has been embroiled in controversy along with the other justices over questionable Supreme Court spending – revealed in an Eyewitness News iTeam investigative story – that showed a $900,000 renovation project ballooned to more than $3.7 million.

The total cost for the work in Loughry’s office was just more than $363,000, but that included some major expenditures for office furniture. Namely, a sectional sofa with a price tag of nearly $32,000, complete with $1,700 in throw pillows.

Loughry maintained he did nothing wrong and only had limited involvement in the work plans, and he pointed at former court administrator Steve Canterbury as being in charge of making the decisions on renovations. Canterbury, however, said Loughry was intricately involved.

A drawing made by Loughry himself, however, was obtained by the iTeam. It showed a $7,500 wood medallion in the floor of his office and outlines the floor plan for his office with detailed notes from Loughry about what he wanted and where he wanted it.

News of the Supreme Court expenditures created a firestorm in the West Virginia Legislature with several lawmakers calling for an investigation of Loughry and possibly impeachment proceedings.

After much of the controversy surfaced, the justices voted to replace Loughry as chief justice and make Justice Margaret Workman the chief justice.

Meanwhile Loughry also was lambasted in a state audit, spurred by Eyewitness News iTeam investigative stories, about how Loughry used vehicles, including rental cars when he traveled for conferences. The audit found he used the vehicles for personal use because of the mileage he drove.

A calendar from the legislative auditor’s report showing Loughry’s state vehicle use indicated he failed to provide a destination or a description or a need for the vehicle.

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.

Records obtained by the iTeam later showed that more than $2,400 was spent for two occasions to have furniture moved from Loughry’s chambers to the state warehouse. However, that total includes the cost of moving the Cass Gilbert desk and a sofa that was removed from Loughry’s office. Both of those items were taken to his house. Loughry contends he was setting up a home office as allowed by court policy. However, the court has no written policy on home offices. Loughry ordered a new desk and a new $32,000 couch for his chambers when he took office in January 2013.

Meanwhile, Loughry was elected to a 12-year term on the Supreme Court in 2012 and served as chief justice in 2017. In February 2018, the court voted to replace Loughry as chief justice.

A native of Tucker County, he obtained law degrees from American University, Washington College of Law, the University of London and Capital University School of law.

These allegations are a shocking first for the West Virginia Supreme Court.

"A judicial officer is held to the highest standard. The charges are very, very serious,” Kanawha County Commission President, Kent Carper said.

Carper said the charges were brought by a very sophisticated panel that includes both former and sitting judges.

"We've had circuit judges in the past charged and removed from office, but this is at the very highest of our judicial system. The only way to bring back confidence to the public is total transparency in how this is adjudicated,” Carper said.

The Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from hearing this case against their colleague. In a motion filed Wednesday afternoon, Judge Joanna Tabit was assigned to the case. She will be allowed to appoint up to four other judges to hear the case along with her.

"Justice Loughry, like anyone accused of any wrong doing should be presumed innocent, and he is presumed innocent. While the charges are damming, they're charges, they're allegations. He has a right to defend himself."

Friday night, Gov. Jim Justice released the following statement and said he would be open to calling a special session to discuss the impeachment of Loughry:

While all of us are innocent until proven guilty, the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Loughry are extremely troubling. At the very least, this has cast a very negative shadow on the state of West Virginia.
Obviously, the Supreme Court understood the seriousness of this situation and suspended him without pay.
If the charges are accurate, I would urge Justice Loughry to resign and spare the court and state any further embarrassment.
As the impeachment process is the domain of the Legislature, I will continue to have a dialog with the leadership to determine the desire to initiate impeachment proceedings. In the event of sufficient interest, I would be open to calling a special session. ??

The AP contributed to this report

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