West Virginia Republicans Impeach Entire State Supreme Court In Very Nonpartisan Witch Hunt
West Virginia's House Judiciary Committee sure was busy Tuesday! In the space of a single day, Republicans introduced articles of impeachment against every current member of the state supreme court, determined that Democrats on the committee had been given adequate notice of the bills, and voted to send the impeachments forward to the full House. And it's definitely not political, because two of the members of the court were elected as Republicans and two as Democrats, so if they're all removed and Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, appoints four members of his choosing, that's just good governing. Oh, say, is there even more fuckery afoot? Well of course there is.
West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals normally has five justices, each elected for a twelve-year term. As the legislature started moving toward impeachment proceedings in July, one justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned, escaping any impeachment charges. The remaining four, Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Robin Davis, Justice Allen Loughry, and Justice Elizabeth Walker, were all hit with a variety of charges Tuesday, including "maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and certain high crimes and misdemeanors," and, for two of them, Being Democrats.
Most of the charges were leveled at Loughry, a Republican, about whom both Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee agree something had to be done, since he'd already been indicted in June by a federal grand jury for a raft of offenses like witness tampering, fraud, lying to federal investigators, and worst of all, getting caught. Loughry was under investigation for misusing state vehicles, blowing a huge amount of money on renovating his office (including a floor decoration in the shape of West Virginia, with each county in a different beautiful hardwood), and moving a state-owned antique desk belonging to his home office.
But in the process, the committee decided it may as well clear out the rest of the justices, following news accounts of excessive spending. That would also very conveniently clear out a court that had started the year with a three to two Democratic majority (West Virginia voted to make elections for its Supremes nonpartisan in 2015, but all the current members had been elected before then, with party affiliations; Ketchum's sudden retirement tied the court at two and two).
The articles of impeachment accuse all four remaining justices of
overspending to remodel their offices and of failing to properly execute their administrative duties. Except for Walker, they were also accused of paying retired senior status judges more than the law allowed.
The deadline for justices to be replaced in a fall election is next week, August 14. After that, new members to replace any who resign or are removed by impeachment would be appointed by Jim Justice, and would be in office until a special election in May 2020. Isn't that convenient? Since Ketchum resigned well before the deadline, his replacement will be elected in November.
Barbara Evans Fleischauer, the Democrat who serves as the Judiciary Committee's minority chair, called the sudden action Tuesday "a coup [...] They dragged this out all summer long, and suddenly they put this on the agenda." She said it was all set up to give Justice, who ran as a Democrat but immediately switched parties after he was inaugurated, a hand-picked (or packed) bench in the state's highest court for two years.
Fleischauer pointed out that however much the office renovations may have been disliked by the legislature, the state constitution gives the Supreme Court discretion over its own budget. (A constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall would give the legislature more power over judicial budgets.) Delegate (they like olde-fashionedy terms, not "state rep") Mike Pushkin, another Democrat, said the impeach-everyone move was "an effort to capitalize on this entire affair by taking out an entire branch of government and replacing it through appointments."
Mind you, Republicans insist it's all just very sad that the justices are so out of control and that the need to replace one justice who's definitely bad just happened to give them the opportunity to remake the composition of the whole court in one fell swoop, because it's so obvious they're ALL crooks, and shame on those Democrats for making this partisan, oh mercy, what is this world coming to? Now fetch their smelling salts, for there is a swamp to be drained.
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