Supreme Court Justices Turned Thieves in West Virginia
USA — August 17, 2018
A $42,000 antique desk. A $32,000 blue suede sectional sofa. A $7,500 inlaid wooden floor map of West Virginia’s 55 counties. These are not purchases made by a billionaire for his home, but by the Supreme court of one of the poorest states of the US.
As a fallout, on Monday night lawmakers in West Virginia did something that is unprecedented in American history: impeach the entire state Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Allen Loughry, Robin Davis and Elizabeth Walker have been accused of extravagant spending and abuse of office. According to a press release from state House Speaker pro tempore John Overington they were impeached on 11 articles of impeachment related to wasteful spending, maladministration, incompetency, neglect of duty and potential criminal behavior. Overington said, “This is one of the saddest days in my 34 years in the Legislature. It has become clear that our Supreme Court has breached the public trust and lost the confidence of our citizens. This somber action today is an essential step toward restoring the integrity of our state's highest court.”
Republican Delegate John Shott, who oversaw the House Judiciary Committee hearings that drew up the articles of impeachment said that the court’s spending of more than $3 million in office renovations earlier this decade was shameful as it came at a time when the state was struggling so hard that it had to make budget cuts in the range of tens of millions of dollars.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia has the fifth-worst poverty rate in the nation with over 17.9 percent of West Virginians living in poverty. The state’s median household income is almost at the bottom at $43,385, which is about $14,000 below the national figure.
Justice Robin Davis spent $500,000 in upgrading her office—the kind of money most West Virginians will take more than a decade to earn. She spent $28,000 for rugs, $23,000 in design services, $8,100 for a desk chair and $1,600 on a painting.
Justice Allen Loughry rang up $363,000 in office renovations, including purchasing an exorbitantly priced blue suede sofa; a floor map of West Virginia with different colored pieces of wood for each county; $16,000 for eight chairs; $6,400 for window treatments; $2,500 for a coffee table, and $1,700 for throw pillows. He also had a state-owned antique desk moved into his home and used a state car for personal use.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman stands accused of excessive spending in the remodeling of her office amounting to $111,000.
Justice Elizabeth Walker has been accused of spending approximately $131,000 on remodeling her office.
A retired fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, has also been accused of using a state-owned vehicle and fuel credit card to travel between his home and a private golf club.
He has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to a charge related to the personal use of state cars and fuel cards.
Loughry, Workman, and Davis also were impeached for allowing senior status judges to be paid higher than allowed wages. Lawmakers opined that the overpayments violated state law and the overpayments were stopped the Internal Revenue Service challenged them.
While the court drama plays out, the top court in the state finds itself in limbo, said James Sample, a law professor at Hofstra University who specializes in judicial ethics.
"Whatever the interim period is, we essentially don't have a functioning West Virginia state Supreme Court," Sample said.
When the custodians of law become law-breakers and indulge in theft, it shows the crumbling of moral values in the society. The impeachment of such thieves is a step in the right direction to signal to the hardworking citizens that no one is above law, and if a crime is committed, the law will eventually catch up.