West Virginia Supreme Court impeachment saga comes to end

CHARLESTON — Chief Justice Margaret Workman and former justice Robin Davis have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Wednesday ruled against a re-hearing over impeachment. Davis said she would dismiss her federal civil rights lawsuit.

First, a Supreme Court panel made up of circuit judges from around the state issued an order Wednesday that said there would be no rehearing of its Oct. 12 decision that the impeachment trial of Workman could not continue.

“This court does not have inherent authority to recall its mandate and there are no extraordinary circumstances that exist that warrant recalling the mandate,” according to the court order. “The court no longer has jurisdiction of this matter. Therefore, a petition for rehearing will not be filed or considered in this matter.”

Last month, the acting justices ruled that the impeachment vote by the House of Delegates against Workman was constitutionally and procedurally flawed. Harrison County Circuit Judge James Matish, the acting chief justice for this case, wrote the majority opinion. The court ruled that the impeachment of Workman violated the separation of powers and lawmakers did not have the authority to decide on the legality of the court’s policies.

McDowell County Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky and Hancock County Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, the chairman of the state Judicial Investigation Commission that previously cleared Workman in a complaint over the summer, joined Matish in that opinion. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom and Upshur County Circuit Judge Jacob Reger dissented in part. The Senate had no comment.

Workman filed suit against the Senate to stop an Oct. 15 impeachment trial. The House impeached Workman Aug. 13 on three of 11 articles of impeachment brought against four members of the court. One of the justices that was impeached, Davis, resigned on Aug. 14 after the impeachment vote.

Also Wednesday, Davis provided a notice of dismissal in federal court, ending her civil rights lawsuit against Gov. Jim Justice, who issued the special session proclamation June 26 calling for the impeachment process to begin for the Supreme Court justices, as well as every lawmaker who voted in favor of her impeachment and her trial.

Davis’ complaint, filed Sept. 26, argued that her impeachment process violates her constitutional rights of free speech, due process, equal protection and violated the state Constitution’s requirement for separation of powers and judicial independence. Davis was named in four of the articles of impeachment.

The court documents effectively close the book on the judicial impeachment process started in June after an avalanche of attention received by former justice Allen Loughry for his extravagant office expenditures, taking court furniture and computers to his home and using state vehicles and fuel cards for personal trips.

Loughry was removed as chief justice after federal subpoenas started arriving at the chambers in February. In June, a 33-count complaint from the JIC and a 22-count federal indictment saw him suspended from the court. He was named in seven of the 11 articles of impeachment with a Nov. 12 trial date in the Senate.

The Workman decision stopped Davis and Loughry’s impeachment trials, though a new impeachment special session was called after Loughry was convicted on 11 of the federal charges. He resigned Nov. 12, and he awaits sentencing in January 2019. Only Justice Beth Walker, who becomes the new chief justice in January, was tried and acquitted by the Senate.

The impeachment saga also saw the resignation of former justice Menis Ketchum on July 27 before the House could impeach him. He pleaded guilty in August to one count of felony wire fraud for his personal use of a state vehicle and fuel card.

Former House Speaker Tim Armstead was appointed by Justice to fill in until a November special election. Former 3rd District Congressman Evan Jenkins was appointed to replace Davis.

Both Armstead and Jenkins won their special election races in November, with Armstead up for re-election in 2020 and Jenkins up for re-election in 2024. The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission is seeking applicants to temporarily fill Loughry’s seat until a 2020 special election selects his replacement.

COMMENTS