Crime & Justice

West Virginia House Votes To Impeach 2 State Supreme Court Justices

West Virginia House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington presides over a hearing on articles of impeachment on Monday at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.
West Virginia House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington presides over a hearing on articles of impeachment on Monday at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.
John Raby/AP

Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET

West Virginia's House of Delegates voted to impeach two of the four justices on the state's Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday, saying Justices Allen Loughry and Robin Davis should face an impeachment trial in the Senate over the use of state funds to renovate Supreme Court offices.

After two hours of debate, an article of impeachment against Loughry was approved in a matter of seconds, by a final vote of 64-33. The tally easily exceeded the 51 votes needed to go forward with trial proceedings.

The vote to send an article of impeachment against the second justice, Davis, passed by a slightly narrower margin, 56-41.

Any justices who are impeached in the House will then be tried in the Senate, with lawmakers from the upper chamber serving as jurors and deciding whether to remove the justices from office.

The votes came one week after the House Judiciary Committee approved 14 articles of impeachment against the four justices who currently sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals, accusing the judges of "maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty." They came under fire last year, when it was reported that they spent more than $3 million to renovate their offices.

Loughry also is facing a federal criminal case, after a grand jury indicted him in June on fraud and a number of other charges, including misuse of a state vehicle and moving an expensive desk from his Capitol office to his home.

The 14 articles are listed in House Resolution 202. Article I, targeting Loughry, was the first to come up for a vote Monday, following debate that focused on a lack of an official definition for "maladministration," as well as broader issues of the separation of powers between branches of state government.

Article I calls out Loughry for using state money to buy a nearly $32,000 couch and a decorative floor inlay for almost $34,000 — part of approximately $363,000 he spent to renovate his office.

As the House discussed impeaching Loughry and the other justices, an amendment was introduced that would have recommended censure rather than removal from office. It was soundly rejected, with only five votes in favor.

While the most public scrutiny has fallen on Loughry, the impeachment articles also name Davis, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Elizabeth Walker.

Of those three, Walker is named in the fewest number of articles. She is accused of spending too much on her office renovations and, along with the other three justices, of wasteful spending for things such as home computers and restaurant lunches.

The outcome of the impeachment effort could allow West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — a former Democrat who is now a Republican — to appoint the majority of the justices on the state's highest court. The state has a deadline of 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday to trigger a special election for any vacancies on the high court's bench. After that, any open seats would be filled by appointment, with the new justices serving until the next regular election.

By law, West Virginia has five Supreme Court justices, who serve 12-year terms. But Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July, announcing his retirement just before the first impeachment proceedings were to begin. Ketchum's seat will be filled by special election this November.

In 2015, West Virginia's Supreme Court elections became nonpartisan. But all of the current justices have previously run for office on behalf of the two main parties. Loughry won office as a Republican, and Walker ran as a Republican in 2008 before she was elected in a nonpartisan vote in 2016. Workman, Davis and Ketchum were elected as Democrats.

You can follow the impeachment proceedings via a live blog from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The House debate is also being streamed on YouTube.

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