Walker: Censure was right call for justice

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Walker’s appearance of contrition and her pledges to make reforms at the court may have played a role in her acquittal after a short trial before state senators last week. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Safeguards against profligate spending and fraud are badly needed at the court.

The House of Delegates had adopted just one article of impeachment against Walker. It accused her of not doing enough to establish court policies aimed at curbing waste, inefficiency and fraud. Had senators agreed, she could have been removed from office.

But her trial in the Senate began last Monday, and before Tuesday was out, senators had voted 32-1 to acquit her. They did, however, agree to censure her officially.

That was the right decision. Walker has served on the court for less than two years, never as chief justice. Her ability to influence policy was limited. In addition, there were indications Walker had concerns about some improprieties at the court, and expressed them to other justices.

Finally, she admitted some mistakes on her own. In particular, she said the $130,000 expense to remodel her office was improper.

After her trial, Walker said she was “grateful to the members of the West Virginia Senate for their careful deliberations and for permitting me to continue to serve the citizens of this great state as a justice.”

She added there is “serious work to do to improve the administration of the court and prevent inappropriate future expenditures.” That is putting it mildly. During a period of a few years, the court chewed through millions of taxpayer dollars in what looked suspiciously like a determination to spend it just because the money was there.

So yes, reforms are needed. High court justices may have little control over one crucial matter. Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to adopt a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature important new controls over court spending. Other safeguards, via new policies and procedures adopted by justices themselves, will be needed.

Walker was cut a break last week. She owes it not just to state senators, but also to the people of West Virginia, to take a leadership role in restoring faith in the state’s highest court.

COMMENTS