Ethics board’s opinion refuted

House releases letter in justices’ case

PARKERSBURG — The House of Delegates released a letter that was an exhibit in the impeachment proceedings by the Judiciary Committee against the justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court that says the advisory opinions of the state Ethics Commission don’t apply to the judicial branch.

The state Constitution establishes the court’s power to control the administrative business of the judiciary, according to a letter from Barbara H. Allen, interim administrative director of the Supreme Court, to state Auditor John McCuskey.

“We are aware of the advisory opinions issued by the West Virginia Ethics Commission the subject, which, although instructive, do not apply to the judicial branch of government,” Allen said.

McCuskey sent a letter to the court on July 26 concerning the court’s use of a state purchasing card to pay for working lunches for the judges and staff.

The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday drafted Articles of Impeachment for all four justices, Robin Davis, Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker. Menis Ketchum retired in July, the day before the committee convened and last week pleaded guilty to an information in U.S. District Court accusing him of wire fraud over the personal use of a state vehicle.

Loughry, who was suspended by the court after the Judicial Investigations Commission filed a complaint against him, was indicted by the federal grand jury on 23 charges, including the personal use of state property, witness tampering, wire and mail fraud, lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.

Allen cited a case that determined the judiciary must have the control to maintain independence. Because of that the issue of working lunches was given to the Judicial Investigation Commission to resolve, not the Ethics Commission, she said.

The commission concluded there was no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, she said.

The auditor’s office had no comment. Allen’s letter, exhibit 73, was released by the House of Delegates.

“We also respectfully disagree with your statement that the court’s use of a p-card to purchase working lunches is ‘contrary to the policies and procedures of the purchasing card program, and generally prohibited under law,'” Allen said. “None of the advisory opinions noted above support this sweeping conclusion; indeed, none of the opinions cited in your letter even mention the p-card issue. Further, nothing in the p-card regulations supports the conclusion that a card cannot be used to purchase a working lunch. Finally, the use of a p-card in these circumstances furthers the important goal of transparency, as the paperwork submitted for the purchase of working lunches contains not only a copy of the invoice but also the name of every individual who received a lunch. In short, there is and was nothing secret about the Court’s working lunches.”

The issue, however, is moot as the court has ceased the practice, she said.

(Mancini can be contacted at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com)

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