Justice appoints Armstead, Jenkins to West Virginia Supreme Court

Gov. Jim Justice, center, announces the appointments of Tim Armstead, left, and Evan Jenkins, right, to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

CHARLESTON — The former speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates is getting a new title, as is the congressman for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.

Tim Armstead, a 20-year member of the House and its speaker for the last four years, and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., were appointed Saturday to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals by Gov. Jim Justice in a ceremony in the Governor’s Office.

“The people of West Virginia should be confident before they go before the court that our justices should follow the rule of law and follow our constitution,” Justice said. “We need true conservative with honor and integrity to restore trust and the blow to the stomach we’ve suffered the last few months.”

Armstead replaces former justice Menis Ketchum on the bench. Ketchum resigned July 27 and was shortly charged in a federal information for one count of felony wire fraud. He agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. On Aug. 23, he pleaded guilty before a federal judge and will be sentenced in December.

“I’m looking at the future and restoring confidence in the court,” Armstead said. “I think that is what all our goal needs to be is to make sure we look forward and look at the ways we can ensure to the people of the state that we will apply the rule of law, that we’re going to have integrity and ethics at the forefront of this process. I’m very pleased, humbled, and excited to take on this role.”

Jenkins replaces former Justice Robin Davis, who resigned Aug. 13 after the House of Delegates adopted 11 articles of impeachment against all sitting justices. Davis was named in three articles of impeachment for spending $500,000 on office renovations, allegedly circumventing state law to pay senior status judges more than what was legally allowed, and for not creating policies and procedures to control spending and use of state property.

“I am absolutely committed to restoring the confidence of the people on West Virginia’s highest court,” Jenkins said. “I promise and pledge to make sure every decision I make is done fair, balanced, impartial. We need to restore transparency and accountability. We need to make sure the people’s court has the people’s confidence.”

The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission (JVAC) interviewed applicants for both seats Aug. 23, including Armstead and Jenkins. The commission released its recommendations Friday evening. By state code, Armstead and Jenkins have to wait 20 days before being sworn in,

By state law, in the event of a vacancy the JVAC recommends possible judges and justices for the governor to appoint. The governor is prohibited from making any appointments until either the JVAC gives the governor recommendations, or 30 days from the time the vacancy occurs, whichever comes first.

Armstead will serve until the Nov. 6 special election, where voters will choose Ketchum’s permanent replacement, who will serve until 2020 when Ketchum’s 12-year term is up. That could be Armstead, as he is one of 10 candidates running for the special election for supreme court division 1.

Jenkins is also a candidate for the special election to fill the remainder of Davis’ second 12-year term, which is up for election again in 2024. He will face 10 candidates in division 2.

Other candidates running for division 1 include: Williamson attorney Robert Carlton, Barboursville attorney D.C. Offutt Jr., Charleston attorney Harry Bruner Jr., Huntington attorney Ronald Hatfield Jr., Charleston former delegate Mark Hunt, former state attorney general candidate Hiram Lewis, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit, Eastern Panhandle Circuit Court Judge Chris Wilkes and Nitro attorney Jeff Wood.

Other candidates for division 2 include: Kanawha County Family Court Judge Jim Douglas, Lewisburg attorney Robert Frank, former Senate President Jeff Kessler of Glen Dale, Hurricane attorney Brenden Long, Wheeling attorney Jim O’Brien, Charleston attorney William Schwartz, Wheeling attorney Marty Sheehan, Charleston attorney Dennise Smith, and Boone County Circuit Court Judge William Thompson.

First appointed to the house in 1998 but the late Gov. Cecil Underwood, Armstead served in the house for 20 years, including several years as house minority leader. He was elevated by his peers to house speaker in 2014 when the Republicans took the majority. The House of Delegates meets Wednesday to pick a new speaker.

Jenkins, who ran for a supreme court seat in 2000, is a former member of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, where he served until running for Congress in 2014. Jenkins ran for U.S. Senate this year, coming in second in the May 8 Republican primary.

The remaining justices — Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman, and Beth Walker — are charged in an article impeachment for not controlling spending, wasting taxpayer dollars, and not putting controls and policies in place to hold themselves accountable to the public.

Loughry alone is charged in six articles, ranging from spending over $363,000 on renovations and furnishings, taking furniture belonging to the court to his home, circumventing state code by overpaying senior status judges, using state vehicles and fuel cards for his personal benefit, misusing state computers for use by his wife and son, and lying under oath to the House Finance Committee.

Loughry, Workman, and Walker are facing trial in the state Senate, with a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Sept. 11.

Loughry was arraigned for a third time Aug. 23 after picking up two additional wire fraud charges. He now faces 25 federal charges, including 17 for wire fraud and two for mail fraud.

Loughry also is charged with lying to FBI agents, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He also faces a 32-count complaint from the state Judicial Investigation Commission before the Supreme Court. He will be tried on Oct. 2.