CHARLESTON – The unprecedented rejection process of West Virginia for four judges of the Supreme Court is starting this week with the first appearances for the Senate.
The judges or their lawyers are ordered to appear at a pre-trial conference Tuesday before the Senate, which will serve as a jury. No dates for the actual accusations of deposition have been established.
The House of Representatives voted last month to accuse the judges Robin Davis, Allen Loughry, Beth Walker and Margaret Workman. Davis retired hours later, but remains the target of accusations.
A conviction during the trial could mean that justice is disqualified in order to hold a public office.
The accusations resulted from questions regarding renovations at the judges' offices. These questions evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and dereliction of duty. Democratic lawmakers, who hold minorities in the House and the Senate, have characterized the accusations as an unprecedented takeover of power by the GOP.
Allegations in the state government are rare in the United States, especially under supreme courts. The high court of Pennsylvania, Rolf Larsen, was removed by an expulsion in 1994 for voting on the handling of cases on the basis of the contribution of a lawyer who was also a political supporter. But it seems unheard of to scare a whole court with several members.
"Will history show that West Virginians over-reacted to a household – though stupid housekeeping – the decision to get into the constitution and turn off a little-used and very important deposition tool to get a message across?" Robert Rupp, professor of political history in West Virginia, said Monday.
Because there is no precedent, he added: "In a sense, we are groping in the dark to find out how this is going to work.
"It is not only new and unique, we have no guidelines for this."
The last time the legislature was dealing with something at a distance like this was 1989, when state treasurer A. James Manchin was deposed by the house after the state had lost $ 279 million invested in the bond market. He resigned before the senate took the deposition measure.
Some Democrats have complained that the accusations were strategically timed to allow GOP Jim Justice to appoint temporary substitutes.
A fifth judge, Menis Ketchum, resigned in July and pleaded guilty last month for a number of fraud offenses related to his personal use of a state vehicle and a fuel card. He is in prison for a maximum of 20 years.
Loughry was suspended in June. Some 25 federal charges against him claim, in part, that he repeatedly lied about the use of his office for personal gain. His federal lawsuit is scheduled for October 2.
A legislative audit report published last week said that the supreme judges of the Supreme Court circumvented the state law with regard to the remuneration for senior status judges who no longer have a full-time job. The state law prohibits those judges from making more than active circuit judges. The audit said that in order to circumvent the law, Supreme Court officials began converting senior status judges from employees to independent contractors.
The audit brought office renovations between the Supreme Court and $ 3.4 million between 2011 and 2016, including $ 1.9 million for the five judges' chambers. Auditors say that invoices for refurbishment in court and administrative offices are not available.
The report also showed that the court issued a budget surplus of $ 29 million between the financial years 2012 and 2015, which caused it to shrink to $ 333,514. The money was used for renovations; wage increases for judges, judges and magistrates; computer services; and lawyer legal services, among other expenses.
Individual office expenses by the judges for renovations include $ 503,000 by Davis, $ 367,000 by Loughry, $ 131,000 by Walker and $ 113,000 by Workman.
Among Loughry's publications was a bank of $ 32,000 blue suede in his office and $ 7,500 for a floor plan of the wooden floor with individually sketched districts. Davis spent $ 56,500 for glass countertops and $ 28,000 for carpets.
The retirement of Ketchum and Davis before a deadline for judges to resign or to be removed meant that their replacement would be decided by voters, not by gubernatorial appointments. A special election will take place in November to fill their non-expired conditions. If the Senate were to condemn other justices, the governor could call their replacements.
The autumn term of the court starts at the beginning of October. Walker and Workman, along with three circuit judges who were appointed as temporary judges, met at the end of August to refuse a last-minute bid from former coalition director Don Blankenship to be listed on the November vote for the race in the US Senate.