West Virginia lawmakers made a historic decision Monday: They voted to impeach the state’s entire Supreme Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.
What are the details?
The West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee approved 14 articles of impeachment against the court’s four sitting justices last week. Their alleged grievances ranged from misusing taxpayer money for office renovations to using state-owned property, including a historic desk, for personal use.
The full House of Delegates considered the articles of impeachment on Monday, ultimately approving 11 of them through a series of votes that fell along party lines, the New York Times reported.
Eight of the articles targeted the court’s chief justice, Allen Loughry, who, according to the Times, has been suspended since June. Among other accusations, he is accused of lying to lawmakers and using state property for his personal use, including vehicles and gas cards.
The remaining justices — acting Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis and Elizabeth Walker — were impeached on three articles. Workman and Davis were impeached for overpaying senior status judges on lower courts, while Davis was impeached for misusing $500,000 in taxpayer funds on office renovations.
All four justices were charged with neglect of duty, abusing their power, and failing to reign in the spending of the others, according to NBC News.
The court’s fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned last month before impeachment proceedings began. He has also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of defrauding the state of West Virginia. He faces 20 years in federal prison.
Meanwhile, Loughry, who was already on administrative leave prior to Monday’s developments, is facing a 22-count federal indictment for fraud, witness tampering, lying to federal investigators, and obstruction of justice. His criminal trial is set to begin in October. If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of 395 years in prison and a $5.5 million fine.
What happens next?
On Tuesday, Davis announced her resignation from the court, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a statement, the Democratic justice blamed partisan politics for the house cleaning.
“What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law,” she said.
The impeachment process for the three remaining justices will be handed off to the state Senate. The chamber will hold trials for each justice and decide whether they should be expelled from the bench.
Gov. Jim Justice (R) will get to name the replacement for any removed justice. Replacement justices will remain on the bench until an election can be held, according to the Times, which could take more than a year.
Circuit Judge Paul Farrell will preside over the Senate trial, since Workman — who would normally preside over impeachment proceedings as chief justice — cannot rule in her own trial. It was Workman who appointed Farrell to the bench. He was confirmed to the court last Friday on an interim basis.