Does the rule of law break down when an entire state supreme court is impeached? That's a question many are exploring as West Virginia lawmakers move this week to impeach every justice on the state's highest court.
What's going on?
The West Virginia House of Delegates will consider a measure this week to impeach all four of the state's remaining Supreme Court justices. The measure was approved by the state's House Judiciary Committee last week.
Committee Chairman John Shott (R) explained in a statement:
The House of Delegate Committee on the Judiciary today adopted 14 articles of impeachment alleging various counts of corruption, maladministration, incompetency, neglect of duty, and potential criminal behavior among the current four state Supreme Court justices.
The articles of impeachment contain accusations ranging from the creation of a potentially unlawful scheme to pay retired senior status judges more than the law would allow, wasteful spending of taxpayer funds on lavish office renovations, the use of public vehicles for personal gain, the illegal removal of historic property from the state Capitol, and the neglect of duty to create policies that prevent improper use of state resources and property.
Targeted in the impeachment articles are Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Associate Justices Allen Loughry, Robin Davis, and Elizabeth Walker.
Specifically, Workman and Davis are accused of "wrongfully approving the overpayment" of senior status justices, while Walker, Davis, and Workman are accused of wasting taxpayer dollars on office renovations and neglect of duty.
Meanwhile, Loughry is accused of illegally possessing a historic artifact in his personal residence, using state property for personal use, using state vehicles and fuel cards for personal use, wasting taxpayer dollars on office renovations, neglect of duty, wrongfully approving the overpayment of senior status justices, lying to the West Virginia House Finance Committee, and wasting of state funds on personal items.
If the articles are approved by the state House, the state Senate will preside over a trial. If found guilty, the justices will be expelled from the bench.
The West Virginia Constitution mandates two-thirds approval from the upper-chamber to remove Supreme Court justices.
The court's fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned last month one day before the impeachment proceedings began. He has since plead guilty to defrauding the state of West Virginia and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to WSAZ-TV.
Meanwhile, Loughry, who was already on administrative leave, was indicted by a federal grand jury in June on 22 charges including fraud, making false statements to investigators, and witness tampering. His trial begins in October. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 395 years in prison and a $5.5 million fine.
Who will preside over the trial?
The West Virginia Constitution states the high court's chief justice shall preside over all impeachment trials in the state Senate. But because Workman is also subject to impeachment, she was deemed ineligible to rule over the proceedings.
However, Workman was still able to designate who would rule over the proceedings. She selected Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He was sworn in to the court on an interim basis last Friday, technically filling Loughry's spot.
Some have argued Workman should not have the power to designate who will preside over impeachment proceedings that she is subject to.
"I believe it is improper to designate any justice as Acting Chief Justice for impeachment proceedings in which I or my colleagues may have an interest and that have not yet commenced in the Senate," Walker said on Friday.