Senate asks Supreme Court to reconsider Workman decision

State Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, tells the Senate what the next steps are in the impeachment process for Chief Justice Margaret Workman. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — What was supposed to be the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Margaret Workman Monday screeched to a halt after Acting Chief Justice Paul Farrell was absent after an appointed panel of justices ruled that impeachment procedures could not continue.

The response Monday morning from the West Virginia Senate, which would have sat as a jury to decide whether to remove Workman from office, was to ask the state Supreme Court of Appeals to rehear the case and for the House of Delegates to be named as the defendants, not the Senate.

“What should we do? I believe we should ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider part of its decision,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “The part that relates to its adjudication of the priority of the procedures used in the House of Delegates.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the Senate would immediately file a petition requesting reconsideration.

“You clearly heard today some of the trouble that this has created and this has caused,” Carmichael said. “It’s the result of what we believe to be a bad judicial ruling. Having said that, we’re going to be respectful, professional, and ensure that we adhere to all the restraints and requirements of the law, and we’ll handle this appropriately.”

The Senate, along with House impeachment managers and their attorneys, gathered for the Workman trial — the second of four impeachment trials of three sitting justices and one justice who resigned. Carmichael announced twice for Acting Chief Justice Farrell to take the podium, then told the chamber the impeachment proceedings were adjourned until Farrell can appear to preside over the trial.

During remarks by members, Trump told senators that he saw no major issues with the rulings made Oct. 11 by a panel of five appointed judges. The acting justices hearing the case ruled that the impeachment of Workman violated the separation of powers and didn’t follow the rules of procedure set by the House of Delegates.

Specifically, the court ruled the Legislature did not have the authority to decide on the legality of the policies that allowed the court to pay 10 senior status judges more than a statutory cap of $126,000 when combining their retirement and their pay when filling a vacancy on the bench. They also ruled that the House did not follow its own impeachment procedures when adopting the 11 articles of impeachment.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom and Upshur County Circuit Judge Jacob Reger agreed in part and dissented in part, arguing the House could amend and re-adopt the articles and resubmit to the Senate.

Trump told his fellow senators the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the senior status judge issue effectively makes that a dead issue for impeachment.

“We have adhered to this notion that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is or is not constitutional. It’s the duty of the court to address that,” Trump said. “As to those questions, that’s it. The Supreme Court is the highest authority there is on those questions.”

The issue for Trump, and the reason for asking for reconsideration, revolves around the Senate being wrongly named as the defendant in the Workman petition. Trump said the technical issues found by the appointed justices were the fault of the House of Delegates, who crafted and adopted the 11 articles of impeachment.

“On that point, it seems to me there is a problem, and it’s obvious to me what the source is,” Trump said. “Our role in impeachment is as a jury. The sole power of impeachment lies in the House of Delegates, not the Senate. (Workman’s) petition called upon the Supreme Court to review what occurred in the House of Delegates. The West Virginia Senate is not the right party to answer those questions.”

According to Jared Hunt, communications director for the House, many of the issues raised in the court’s decision were answered in responses to similar motions to dismiss the articles of impeachment leading up to the Workman trial.

“House managers did file an extensive defense in response to many of the claims raised in that petition — including challenges to the House’s procedural actions — with the Court of Impeachment, which leadership believes is the proper venue in which these claims should be adjudicated,” Hunt said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t upset all senators. State Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said that when a prosecutor doesn’t follow rules and procedures in a criminal trial, the judge can throw out the case. He saw a parallel with the Supreme Court decision.

“I think the court got it exactly right. We, the Legislature, do not have the absolute right to impeach or remove,” Woelfel said. “There are processes that must be followed. In this case the Supreme Court is saying ‘House, you have the right to make your procedural rules, but you didn’t follow the rules.”

The Senate adjourned Monday, but with no clear date on when to return.