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WV Impeachment Enters a More Partisan Stage

After three investigations and a month of hearings before a House committee, articles of impeachment for all the justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court now go to the House of Delegates. (Dan Heyman)
After three investigations and a month of hearings before a House committee, articles of impeachment for all the justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court now go to the House of Delegates. (Dan Heyman)
August 9, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Articles of impeachment for every member of the West Virginia Supreme Court are now before the full House of Delegates, where they are likely to provoke much more partisan debate.

The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee approved 14 out of 16 articles, the same day they were made public. Committee Democrats, including Mike Pushkin of Charleston, had earlier proposed articles to only impeach Justice Allen Loughry, who also faces 23 separate criminal charges.

Even as the committee was hearing evidence, Pushkin said the GOP would try to use Loughry's crimes to stack the court.

"The Republican leadership is trying to capitalize off of this sad affair, to go after the entire Supreme Court,” Pushkin said; “thus giving Gov. Jim Justice a chance to stack the court with justices that the Republicans support."

Half of the articles deal just with Loughry. Those that include the other justices mostly focus on "lavish spending." The full House will take up impeachment on Monday.

The state Supreme Court administers the entire state court system, and its budget is in large part funded by court fees and similar payments. The court has been able to set its own budget and spending, and Pushkin said he agrees that should change.

He said although much of the evidence of costly office remodeling did not violate state rules, those rules are far too loose.

"Was there excessive spending? I think so. I think so in every one of their offices. I'd like to see the Legislature be in control of the Supreme Court budget, just like it is in every other state,” Pushkin said. “But what we have heard that has risen to the level of impeachment has all been about Justice Loughry."

Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan, but Loughry and Justice Beth Walker generally line up with business interests in their decisions. Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Robin Davis more often line up with Democratic interests. Davis is married to an important trial lawyer and has been a Republican target for years.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum is typically regarded as a centrist, and avoided impeachment by retiring last month.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV