Panel hears court worker’s affidavit at impeachment inquiry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia legislative panel has heard a sworn affidavit from a court employee who said she felt that suspended state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry tried to intimidate her into lying about court renovations.

The House Judiciary Committee is investigating whether to recommend impeachment proceedings for Loughry. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that court renovations were the focus of testimony the committee heard Friday.

The committee is set to return Thursday, when former Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury is scheduled to testify. Canterbury was fired after Loughry became chief justice, and the two have sparred over expensive renovations and other matters at the court. If the House committee recommends impeachment, the House of Delegates would then decide whether a trial would be held before the state Senate.

Loughry was suspended recently over allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain. He also is charged in a 23-count federal criminal indictment with lying to federal investigators, witness tampering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

An attorney for the Judiciary Committee, Marsha Kauffman, read a sworn affidavit on Friday from Kimberly Ellis, director of administrative services for the Supreme Court since 2015. Ellis couldn’t testify because of scheduling conflicts, Kauffman said, and her affidavit was taken from testimony she provided to the state Judicial Investigation Commission.

Ellis’ testimony indicated that Loughry’s difficult relationship with Canterbury affected her job. Loughry fired Canterbury on Jan. 2, 2017.

On Jan. 4, Ellis said, Loughry called her on her personal cellphone to tell her that Canterbury had been fired, and he asked her to keep their conversation off the record.

“He also said that it was his understanding that I was a spy or loyal to Steve Canterbury, but I had nothing to worry about because they liked me,” Ellis said in the affidavit. “I felt like this was a threat and feared for my employment with the court.”

Ellis said she later learned that Loughry made a similar statement to her assistant, who took a new job not long after.

Ellis said Loughry was involved in the design of his office, which included a $32,000 custom-made couch and a hardwood and granite-inlay county map in the floor of his office.

She said Loughry personally selected fabric for pillows for the couch, and he provided a hand-drawn rendering of how he wanted the county map to look. She said he specifically requested that Tucker County, his home county, be made of the same granite that was used in the floor of his bathroom.

On Oct. 19, 2017, Loughry called Ellis into a meeting with him; the court’s finance manager, Sue Troy; and Court Administrator Gary Johnson, a former circuit judge in Nicholas County. Ellis said she had provided Troy with a copy of her files on the renovations of Loughry’s office and Justice Robin Davis’ office.

Loughry asked Ellis if she had notes on how much renovations cost in his office, as well as the offices of Justices Margaret Workman and Menis Ketchum.

During the meeting, Ellis testified, Loughry said he had “specifically” told her he wanted to be sure the renovation in his office cost less than the renovations in Workman’s and Ketchum’s offices.

“I felt like he was trying to intimidate me or coerce me to lie,” Ellis said in the affidavit.