House Judiciary Committee sets dates for impeachment hearings
CHARLESTON – The next steps in considering impeaching one or possibly more justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court are set to take place.
The House Judiciary Committee will hold the first meeting on impeachment proceedings on July 12. Delegate John Shott, a Republican from Mercer County and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released a statement Thursday announcing the procedures.
“I am confident that we can proceed in an impartial and non-partisan manner commensurate with the seriousness of the assignment entrusted to us,” Shott said.
According to Shott, the committee will meet July 12-14, recess and meet again July 19-21. Specific times, locations and agendas will be announced at a later date.
Judiciary Committee staff have been working behind-the-scenes since being convened June 26 to collect evidence and subpoena witnesses. Gov. Jim Justice called the Legislature into special session to start impeachment proceedings.
HR 201 allows the House to be in recess while the committee does its impeachment work. Once its work is complete, the committee might recommend articles of impeachment for the full House to vote on. From there, it will be up to the state Senate to sit as a jury and consider the articles of impeachment.
To present those articles of impeachment, Shott announced the appointment of impeachment managers. The managers will help oversee the committee’s work, present the article of impeachment to the House and help conduct the trial against whichever justices they possibly charge during the Senate trial.
Impeachment managers include Delegates Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, and Rodney Miller, D-Boone.
Democrats in the House have been outspoken about a need for a time frame on impeachment. During the first day of the special session, the minority party attempted to amend HR 201 to put a deadline of July 23 on the committee’s work so there will be time for the Senate trial and get a vacated Supreme Court seat on the November ballot. That amendment failed along party lines.
The state Constitution and HR 201 empower the House to look at “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, or high crimes or misdemeanors” when drawing up articles of impeachment. Many in the House believe they already have enough evidence to present articles against Justice Allen Loughry.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, a Democrat from Ohio County and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, called focusing on the whole court a “red herring” to prolong the impeachment process so a special election isn’t triggered.
“We could take care of Justice Loughry in one day,” Fluharty said. “In a nutshell, we don’t have an evidentiary standard like a court of law does. We are not going in like an episode of ‘Law and Order.'”
According to state code, if a justice’s seat is vacated either due to impeachment, death or resignation before Aug. 14, a special election would be called to run concurrent with the November general election. If the open seat occurs after Aug. 14, the governor would have to appoint someone to fill the seat for the remainder of the term.
“What they’re really saying is we want to take as long as possible, waste taxpayer money and get beyond the Aug. 14 deadline,” Fluharty said.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, was the lead sponsor of the timeline amendment to HR 201. He said if the hearings are handled like a grand jury proceeding, the Judiciary Committee could look at each justice individually, starting with Loughry. That way there is the chance a justice could be impeached and the vacant seat put on the November ballot.
“I would take them individually rather than lumping them in all together,” Sponaugle said. “I’d start with Loughry because there is plenty of information out there on him. Honestly, he’s the one driving the bus on this thing and brought it to a head. Just to be fair to the justices, I don’t think you can throw them in all together.”
Loughry was recently charged by the grand jury for the Southern District of West Virginia with 22 counts of mail and wire fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal investigators. The Judicial Investigation Commission filed a complaint alleging he violated the judicial codes of conduct, an investigation that is on pause while the criminal charges are pending.