A West Virginia House panel adopted articles of impeachment Tuesday against all four state Supreme Court justices, escalating a widening scandal in the state’s judicial system.
The 14 articles of impeachment, adopted by the House Committee on the Judiciary, accuse Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Allen Loughry, Robin Davis and Elizabeth Walker of failing to carry out the court’s administrative duties and wasteful spending during office renovations.
Half the articles of impeachment deal solely with Loughry, who was indicted in June on 22 criminal federal charges, including fraud, false statements and witness tampering. Workman and Davis also may face impeachment for wrongfully approving the overpayment of senior judges.
The articles of impeachment – along with criminal charges faced by Loughry and another retired justice – show that the state Supreme Court had a real problem, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, a Republican, told CNN by phone.
“They think that they are superior and don’t need to hold restraint over the taxpayer money they are entrusted with,” he said.
The articles now go to the full House for a vote on August 13. The accused then could face trial in the state Senate, where two-thirds of members would have to agree to remove them from office.
West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals is comprised of five justices, each elected to 12-year terms, though only four positions are currently filled.
CNN’s calls to Workman, Loughry, Davis and Walker were not immediately returned.
Criminal charges against justices
The impeachment articles come on top of earlier federal criminal charges against Loughry and Justice Menis E. Ketchum II, who retired from the court in late July, just days before he was charged with federal wire fraud.
Loughry is accused of taking a historically significant desk, called the Cass Gilbert desk, to his private home for personal use. He also is accused of using a government vehicle and submitting mileage claims for reimbursement, as well as using a state vehicle and credit card on personal trips.
Loughry also later was indicted on an obstruction of justice charge related to a pending federal grand jury investigation.
Loughry pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on bond, according to court documents. He is suspended without pay and prohibited from hearing cases during judicial disciplinary proceedings, according to the court’s website.
Meanwhile, Ketchum, 75, is accused of using a state-owned vehicle and fuel credit card to travel between his home and a private golf club.
A plea hearing in the case is scheduled for August 23, court documents show. US Attorney Mike Stuart announced last week that Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty, according to CNN affiliate WSAZ.
Shott described his committee’s move toward impeachment as “a sad day for West Virginia … but it is an important step forward if we are going to restore the public’s confidence in the judiciary.”
“This committee did not take this effort lightly,” he said in a statement. “After reviewing all the evidence available to us, it became clear that a culture of entitlement and disregard for both the law and taxpayer funds have damaged the reputation of our judicial system — and that all justices had a part in violating the public’s trust.”