JVAC names Loughry vacancy applicants

CHARLESTON — Applicants to fill the seat left vacant when convicted former justice Allen Loughry resigned last month were announced on Tuesday by the governor.

Monday was the deadline for applicants to apply to the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to be considered for the appointment by Gov. Jim Justice. On Tuesday, the commission released the names of 17 applicants who applied.

The commission will interview the applicants on Dec. 11.

Of the 17 applicants, six ran in one of the two special elections on Nov. 6 to fill the remainder of the terms for former justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis. Those candidates are Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit, Kanawha County Family Court Judge Jim Douglas, Williamson attorney Robert Carlton, Lewisburg attorney Robert Frank, Scott Depot attorney Brenden Long and Charleston attorney William Schwartz.

Other applicants are retired Greenbrier County Circuit Judge Jim Rowe, Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia, Charleston attorney Bradley Crouser, Charleston attorney Lee Feinberg, Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge John Hutchison, state Supreme Court law clerk and Charleston native Louis Palmer, Charleston attorney Harry Taylor, Elkins attorney Joseph Wallace, Charleston attorney Rusty Webb and Beckley attorney and former legislator Bill Wooten.

The appointee will fill Loughry’s vacancy until a special election in 2020. The winner of the special election will serve until 2024, when the term ends.

Loughry resigned Nov. 12 after lawmakers were poised to hold a special session focused on impeaching him and removing him from office. He was convicted Oct. 13 of 11 federal charges including wire and mail fraud, witness tampering and lying to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The conviction of Loughry was preceded by multiple media reports, legislative audits and complaints from the Judicial Investigation Commission that culminated with him being removed as chief justice, suspended without pay, a federal conviction and ultimately his resignation.

The controversies started after it was revealed Loughry used more than $360,000 for renovations and furnishing of his Supreme Court office, including expensive flooring and a blue-suede couch costing in the five-figures. Reports showed that Loughry took court furniture, including a couch and antique desk, to his home and utilized court staff to remove the items after media inquiries. Investigations also revealed that Loughry used state computers at his home for personal use.

Testimony during his trial and legislative audits revealed Loughry’s personal use of court vehicles and fuel cards, which he denied. He cashed reimbursement checks from organizations for travel to conferences instead of having those checks made out to the court. Federal prosecutors said Loughry tried to influence a court employee’s memory in case she might be called to testify in a criminal proceeding.

Loughry caused the entire court to fall under legislative scrutiny when a special session was called in June to begin impeachment investigations. Ketchum resigned before the House Judiciary Committee could look into him, but he later pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

The House of Delegates adopted 11 articles of impeachment Aug. 13 spread out against the remaining justices, with Davis resigning the next day. Only Justice Beth Walker, who faced only one impeachment charge, made it to trial before the state Senate. She was acquitted but censured for her role in extravagant spending at the court. Chief Justice Margaret Workman filed a petition with the supreme court, who ruled that the impeachment trial process had to stop.

Loughry, who has two appeals pending for his criminal conviction, will be sentenced Jan. 18, 2019.

According to state code, the commission has 90 days from the time of the vacancy to submit a list of between two and five replacements to the governor. The governor has 30 days from the time he receives the commission recommendations to make an appointment.