House Judiciary Committee starts impeachment meetings; Justice Ketchum resigns

CHARLESTON — Members of the House Judiciary Committee will meet today to start the process of drawing up articles of impeachment against one or more justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals — a job that just got simpler.

Menis Ketchum, one of two justices under fire for spending practices, resigned Wednesday — less than 24 hours before committee members were scheduled to meet in Charleston.

“I have decided to retire and relinquish my office as a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals,” Ketchum wrote in his resignation letter.

The House Judiciary Committee will also meet Friday and Saturday to interview witnesses and go over evidence before submitting articles of impeachment to the full House of Delegates. Other meetings are being planned and the House is charged with looking at all Supreme Court justices.

Lawmakers were called into special session June 26 by Gov. Jim Justice to consider impeachment proceedings of any justices of the state Supreme Court. Calls for impeachment have focused on Justice Allen Loughry, who has been suspended without pay as a Judicial Investigation Commission investigation is paused due to a 22-count federal indictment against Loughry. Charges include mail and wire fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal investigators.

Justice announced the Ketchum’s resignation in a press release Wednesday afternoon. Ketchum’s resignation is effective July 27.

“I have directed my general counsel to provide the necessary documentation to the Judicial Vacancy Commission and other state agencies as may be appropriate to fill this vacancy created by Justice Ketchum’s resignation,” Justice said.

“Justice Ketchum has brought a great work ethic and strong intellect to his work on the court, as well as fairness and compassion for people whose cases we hear. He will be missed both personally and professionally,” said Chief Justice Margaret Workman.

Ketchum and Loughry were singled out by two legislative audits in April and May for possibly violating the Ethics Act by using vehicles owned by the high court for their personal use. According to the report, both justices were not reporting the vehicle use in their personal income tax filings.

The report specifically criticizes Ketchum for using the vehicles to commute back and forth between Charleston and his home in Huntington and for personal golf outings in Virginia. When brought to his attention, Ketchum reimbursed the state and amended his tax forms. Loughry, on the other hand, disputed the findings of the Legislative Auditor’s office.

First elected in 2008, Ketchum was up for re-election in 2020. With more than two years left on his term, state code calls for the governor — with the assistance of the Judicial Vacancy Commission — to appoint an interim justice until a special election. That special election will run concurrently with the 2018 general election on Nov. 6.

Candidates wishing to file for the vacancy can file pre-candidacy paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office. The candidate filing period for the empty seat starts Aug. 6, and ends Aug. 21.

Since Ketchum is retiring, his pension will remain intact.

While lawmakers begin to consider impeachment of Loughry and other justices, some hope that Loughry will follow Ketchum’s example and resign as well.

“Justice Ketchum has taken advantage of his position in the Supreme Court, and in doing so he has taken advantage of the West Virginia voters who elected him,” said House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion. “I urge Justice Loughry to follow in Justice Ketchum’s footsteps and submit his resignation immediately.”

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