Who presides over the impeachment trial of a state Supreme Court justice if the entire state Supreme Court is being impeached?
It’s an absurd constitutional hypothetical West Virginians are left to grapple with, after the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee drafted articles of impeachment against four justices on the state’s highest court.
Five justices sit on the state Supreme Court in West Virginia. The state legislature has drafted articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Jean Davis, Beth Walker, and Allen Loughry. The court’s fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, retired in late July. Ketchum will plead guilty to two federal corruption charges on Aug. 29.
Loughry was placed on unpaid administrative leave in June after a state commission lodged a 32-count complaint against him, alleging pervasive violations of the state ethics code. He has since been indicted in federal court for fraud, witness tampering, and making false statements to investigators. (RELATED: First Justice Suspended From Scandal-Ridden State Supreme Court)
The remaining three justices — Workman, Davis, and Walker — face impeachment for wasting government resources and failing to effectively administer the state courts. All three spent large sums of taxpayer dollars on lavish improvements to their chambers in the state capital, which cumulatively totaled almost $750,000, and allegedly abused state travel resources. Workman and Davis also allegedly authorized compensation for other state judges in excess of the amounts allowed by West Virginia law.
“There appears to be, based on the evidence before us, an atmosphere that has engulfed the court of cavalier indifference to the expenditure of taxpayer funds, to the protection of taxpayer-paid assets, and an almost incomprehensible arrogance that for some reason they are not a coequal branch but a superior branch of government,” Delegate John Shott said during a judiciary committee hearing on Aug. 7.
West Virginia’s constitution provides that the chief justice shall preside over impeachment trials in the state Senate. As Chief Justice Workman herself, however, is subject to impeachment, she is ineligible to preside, as are the rest of her colleagues.
Workman appointed Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to the high court on an interim basis late Friday. Farrell will serve in Loughry’s seat, pending the election of a successor in November. Farrell will also preside over impeachment proceedings in the legislature — though Walker disputes his power to do so.
In a short statement issued late Friday, Walker argued against Farrell’s installation as the presiding officer for impeachment.
“I believe it is improper to designate any justice as acting chief justice for impeachment proceedings in which I or my colleagues may have an interest and that have not yet commenced in the Senate,” she wrote.
Prior to this summer’s abrupt turn of events in West Virginia, Davis was cited in the press for possible ethics violations in unrelated matters. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in March 2017 that a series of contributions made to her 2012 re-election campaign strongly resemble an illegal straw donation scheme, conducted at the behest of an attorney defending a $92 million civil judgment in the state Supreme Court. (RELATED: New Evidence Of Illegal Donations To West Virginia Judge Emerges)
That attorney, Michael Fuller of the McHugh Fuller Law Group, also purchased the Davis family private jet in December 2011.
Davis issued a ruling in 2014 preserving a large portion of Fuller’s $92 million award.
GOP Gov. Jim Justice will appoint new justices if any of the court’s current members are impeached.
FIRST JUSTICE SUSPENDED FROM SCANDAL-RIDDEN STATE SUPREME COURT
West Virginia’s Judicial Investigation Commission cited state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry for 32 alleged violation of the state ethics code, prompting Loughry’s colleagues to suspend him from his official duties.
The embattled justice has been implicated in a range of alleged wrongdoing, including abuse of state resources, lying under oath, and hiding information from colleagues.
The complaint charges that Loughry “engaged in a pattern and practice of lying and using his public office for private gain.”
The details set forth allege Loughery lied pervasively about the procurement of new furnishings for his chambers, telling local news anchors, radio talk show hosts, newspaper editors, and members of the West Virginia state legislature that he was not involved in the lavish renovations of his office. Emails, eyewitness testimony, and other records show he was intimately involved in the selection of a $32,000 suede sectional, and a $7,500 wooden medallion with a county-by-county rendering of the state.
The total cost of the renovation ran over $350,000. (RELATED: New Evidence Of Illegal Campaign Donations To West Virginia Judge Emerges)
The complaint also identifies some 12 instances in which Loughery used state transportation for personal reasons, and notes the justice used state transportation some 148 times without logging his activity. He later attempted to exempt the justices from transportation disclosure requirements.
In April state auditors discovered Loughry removed a state-owned antique desk to his private residence. The so-called Cass Gilbert desk, named for an architect most famous for designing the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., in his possession is valued at almost $50,000.
The justice also concealed two federal subpoenas related to court business from the other four justices on the court. The subpoenas were issued in December 2017 and February 2018, when Loughry was serving as chief justice. He was removed as chief on a 4-1 vote when the other justices were made aware of the subpoenas on Feb. 16, 2018.
The complaint butresses its allegations with lengthy quotes from his book “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay For A Landslide,” a meticulous history of political corruption in the state.
“Of all the criminal politicians in West Virginia, the group that shatters the confidence of the people the most is a corrupt judiciary,” he wrote.
NEW EVIDENCE OF ILLEGAL CAMPAIGN DONATIONS TO WEST VIRGINIA JUDGE EMERGES
New evidence has emerged suggesting a corporate entity funneled thousands of dollars to a West Virginia Supreme Court judge’s re-election campaign at the urging of an attorney who had a major case pending on the high court’s docket.
A source involved in a series of campaign contributions made to West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis told The Daily Caller News Foundation that they believed a corporate entity may have donated at least $6,000 to her 2012 re-election campaign in the names of various people connected to the company, as a personal favor for a friend of the firm’s president.
TheDCNF first reported on a series of suspicious campaign contributions made to the Davis re-election effort in August 2016.
Contribution records reviewed by TheDCNF show that six individuals from Plant City, Fla., contributed to Davis’s 2012 campaign. All six donations were made in the amount of $1,000, the maximum allowed by West Virginia law. Each donation was made on Jan. 12, 2012.
None of these individuals has an extensive history of political activism. It is unclear what connection, if any, the Plant City donors have to West Virginia judicial politics.
The only connection the donors have to each other is their relationship with Steve Edwards, president of a Plant City landscaping company called S&O Greenworks. Though no contributions were made in Edwards’ name, several came from individuals close to him and his company.
His wife, Jennifer Edwards, appears to have made two contributions to the Davis re-election effort. One contribution was made in her married name, and another was made in the name Jennifer Schlichenmayer, Edwards’s maiden name. Two other S&O Greenworks employees also made donations. Additional contributions came from two individuals who live on Steve Edwards’ street.
One of these individuals told TheDCNF that they did not make a donation to the Davis campaign, and that any donation made in their name was submitted without their knowledge or permission. The source asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the donations.
The individual claims that the first time they learned a donation to Davis was made in their name was in TheDCNF’s Aug. 4 report. The source said that they are not politically active and had never heard of Robin Jean Davis before reading TheDCNF’s report.
“No,” the source replied when asked if they donated to the Davis campaign. “I have never been into politics. I don’t know anyone like [Justice Davis.]”
The source said they believed the donation was made by Steve Edwards using S&O Greenworks funds at the behest of a Mississippi-based attorney named Michael Fuller. Edwards and Fuller have a longstanding personal relationship.
Fuller is a partner at the McHugh Fuller Law Group, and argued a major case before Justice Davis in 2014. The case concerned a $91.5 million judgement Fuller had secured for his client against a nursing home in a trial court in West Virginia.
Other lawyers at his firm, as well as their relatives, also made $1,000 donations to the Davis campaign on Jan. 12, 2012, the same day the Plant City contributions were made. During this same period, Fuller purchased a private jet from Davis, as TheDCNF documented in the Aug. 4 report.
Davis later wrote an opinion preserving much of a $91.5 million judgement Fuller secured in a trial court.
The source said Steve Edwards once informed them that he would use company funds to do a favor for Fuller, though they did not know what the funds were being used for.
“I have to cut a couple of checks out of our account for something that [Fuller’s] doing, but he’s going to reimburse us,” the source said, quoting Edwards. “I remember thinking ‘This guy’s a multi-millionaire, why does he need to borrow money from us?’”
The source added they believed the funds expended by S&O Greenworks at Fuller’s urging totaled approximately $10,000. They further claimed that other contributions emanating from S&O employees were likely made at Edwards’ orders or by Edwards himself.
The Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan, an expert on campaign finance laws, previously told TheDCNF that the fact posture of this case suggests the existence of a straw donor racket. A straw donation occurs when individuals use another’s money to make political contributions in their own name or in the names of others. Straw donations are illegal.
Ryan did not pass a definitive judgement on the facts of this case, and emphasized he is not an expert on the campaign finance laws particular to West Virginia.
“$1,000 contributions are highly unusual from people of modest means in my experience,” he told TheDCNF. “Particularly when the contribution is going to someone in another state, when the contribution is coming from someone with no track record of involving themselves as political contributors, those are all red flags to me.”
“I wouldn’t refer to straw donors as a common practice,” he added. “It’s always unusual, it’s always a big deal, in my opinion, and I want to see strong enforcement to prevent use of straw donors.”
The source’s allegations concerning the use of S&O funds for political contributions also raises legal questions, as does Fuller’s alleged promise to reimburse the company for the expenditures.
Steve Edwards and Michael Fuller did not respond to TheDCNF’s inquiries about this story.