UPDATE — 10/27, 9:28 a.m. EDT: West Virginia’s Supreme Court issued an order Thursday blocking the state Senate from further pursuing impeachment of suspended Justice Allen Loughry, who was found guilty earlier in October of 11 federal counts, including multiple wire fraud charges, as well as witness tampering and mail fraud.
The state’s High Court issued a separate ruling in early October blocking the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Margaret Workman citing a violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.
“We now have a convicted federal felon as a sitting member of the state Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. This continues to be a problem for us. The Legislature under our state constitution has the power of impeachment. In fact, it has the sole power of impeachment,” said state House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.
On Monday, the Republican-controlled West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach the entire remaining state Supreme Court of Appeals due to reports of extravagant spending and failure to develop guidance for the use of public resources.
Such actions are considered impeachable offenses under the West Virginia constitution. Now, the 11 impeachment charges are headed to the state Senate for trial, where a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict.
The judges impeached were Allen Loughry II, Beth Walker and Chief Justice Margaret Workman, with Loughry facing criminal charges including 23 federal counts of fraud, witness tampering, lying to a federal agent and obstruction of justice.
Justice Robin Davis announced her retirement on Tuesday hours after her impeachment.
One judge, Menis Ketchum, resigned in July before the impeachment proceedings. Ketchum previously plead guilty to one count of wire fraud.
If convicted, Gov. Jim Justice will be tasked with naming three of the five interim judges, until voters are able to cast ballots in the next election cycle slotted for May 2020. Because Ketchum and Davis resigned in time, West Virginians will be able to pick new justices to fill their two seats during a special election to be called on Nov. 6.
Democrats argue that the sweep was intended to give the Republican governor unilateral power to remake the court by appointing replacements and that impeachment might be too extreme for the justices accused of less exorbitant financial infractions.
Until the trials are conducted for Loughry, Workman and Walker, the court in the interim is in limbo and, essentially, non-functioning, said Hofstra University law professor James Sample.
[Washington Post] [NPR] [West Virginia Gazette] [NBC News] [WOWKtv.com] [WCHS] [Photo Courtesy of West Virginia Public Broadcasting]