Not the Supreme Court in Washington, but not too far from it, either. The West Virginia Supreme Court consists of five justices, but there are only four at the moment, and the Judiciary Committee of the House has decided that they suck.
West Virginia’s House Judiciary Committee has adopted articles of impeachment against all four justices on the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals, accusing the judges of a range of crimes and throwing the court’s immediate future into disarray.
Approved on Tuesday afternoon, the articles of impeachment recommend that the entire bench — Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry, Justice Robin Davis and Justice Elizabeth Walker – be impeached “for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and certain high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Justice Loughry is under indictment, based upon claimed travel expenses he wasn’t due, plus taking a historic desk and putting it in his home office.
Many of the articles take aim at Loughry — whom a federal grand jury indicted in Juneon a number of serious charges that include fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal investigators.
The investigation into Loughry centered on his use of official vehicles, the expensive renovation of his Supreme Court office — and his moving of a valuable and historic “Cass Gilbert” desk from a Capitol building to his home office.
Notably, this was the desk he used when he was a clerk at the West Virginia Supreme Court, about twelve minutes before they made him a justice. But what of the others?
The 14 newly adopted articles accuse all the 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.
Profligate justices are the worst justice, right? Or this is just a sham to taint the court conveniently in advance of the election.
The timing of Tuesday’s vote to approve the impeachment articles — after a month of hearings, and one week before the Aug. 14 deadline — was quickly criticized by Democrats.
“It’s a coup,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, a Democrat who is the judiciary committee’s minority chair. She added, “They dragged this out all summer long, and suddenly they put this on the agenda.”
Whether there’s merit to the claims, whether they rise to the level of impeachable offenses, is unknown. But what this does show is how impeachment, suddenly beloved by so many as the means of undermining the electoral process when the outcome emits an horrific odor, can be used as a tool by whoever has the power. The claim that it’s partisan seems as dubious as the claim that overspending is impeachable.
In 2015, West Virginia voted to make its Supreme Court elections nonpartisan. But all of the current justices have been affiliated with the two main parties, and at the start of the year, the bench’s unofficial makeup was 3-2 in favor of the Democrats. Loughry won office as a Republican; Walker ran as a Republican in 2008 before being elected in a nonpartisan vote in 2016. Both Workman and Davis were elected as Democrats, as was Ketchum.
So what did these putatutively nonpartisan justices spend wildly on such that it compelled articles of impeachment?
On Monday, the House Impeachment Committee and members of the media inspected the Supreme Court’s offices — and paid particular attention to Loughry’s accommodations. Here’s a sampling of a report from that outing, from WVPB:
“Delegates lingered around the infamous $32,000 couch, touching its suede fabric and commenting on the cost of the couch and the six pillows.
” ‘It looks like a regular couch to me,’ Joe Altizer, counsel for the minority party, commented.
“No one sat on it.
“They also gathered in a circle around the wooden inlaid floor that was designed just for Loughry, commenting on the beauty of the wood.”
The wood inlay in the office floor, we’ll note, is in the shape of West Virginia, with different shades of wood used to designate its counties.
How a $32,000 couch compares with a $15,000 ostrich jacket is up to you, but when when lawfare becomes the easier solution to whatever unpleasant outcomes politics delivers, why not? And if the infection takes out the Supreme Court in West Virginia, how long before it spreads to Washington, D.C.?