CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — West Virginia Supreme Court justices – amid swirling controversy over questionable spending by the court uncovered in a series of Eyewitness News iTeam investigative reports – have voted to make a change to their leadership.
Eyewitness News has learned the court voted to elect Margaret Workman as chief justice through the end of 2018, replacing Justice Allen Loughry. The change takes effect immediately.
Workman released the following statement:
"It's time to begin what will be a very long process of restoring public respect for the Supreme Court."
Following the decision, Loughry also released a statement:
"In 2016, I requested a federal investigation into certain practices and procedures within the Supreme Court. At the time, I was dismayed with those procedures and practices and felt that I had a legal and ethical obligation to contact federal authorities. In my opinion, the action taken by the court today is in response to my cooperation with federal authorities. I defer to the federal prosecutor's office for more information. "
Loughry will remain on the court as a justice.
There has been a firestorm of controversy since a series of Eyewitness News iTeam investigative reports about questionable state Supreme Court spending that showed thousands of dollars were spent on renovations, including a $32,000 couch – complete with $1,700 throw pillows -- in Loughry’s office.
Records show the total cost for the renovation of Loughry's chambers was $363,013.43.
On Thursday, things really got heated in the Legislature when Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, took to the Senate floor and called for the impeachment of Loughry, based on the most recent Eyewitness News report. He read the whole story out loud to senators and called for action by his fellow members.
"Now that this has come to light, I am now more than ready to call on the House to start the impeachment process of Supreme Court Justice Loughry,” Ojeda said. “Today, I have submitted a resolution urging the House to begin the investigation."
In November 2017, Loughry maintained in an interview with Eyewitness News that he was only minimally involved in the decisions regarding the renovation of his chambers during his first year on the bench.
An exclusive story by the Eyewitness News iTeam, however, on Tuesday showed that Loughry's emails and a handwritten drawing of a wood medallion directly contradict what he has publicly said about his knowledge and involvement in the appearance of his private chambers.
Loughry has blamed former court administrator Steve Canterbury, saying he was in charge of the court renovation project. Canterbury, however, has said that Loughry was more involved than any other justice in the renovation of an office.
In the latest Eyewitness News iTeam investigative story, published this week, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he was “incredibly troubled” by the findings in the investigative story and called it “so disappointing.”
“I hope, as the stories and so forth continue to come out more and more and more, that we demand absolute integrity, honesty and accountability from not only our court system but all public officials," Carmichael said.
Loughry, throughout the reporting of Eyewitness News stories, has continued to maintain he has done nothing wrong. Our latest story included an emailed statement from Loughry's office standing by his prior statement that he had no knowledge of the inflated and outrageous expenditures, and any insinuation to the contrary is simply dishonest.
Loughry’s statements have not quelled the displeasure of lawmakers about the court’s spending. On Thursday, the state Senate passed a resolution that calls for voters to decide this year whether the judicial budget should be under the control of the Legislature.