‘Fishing expedition’ long overdue

West Virginia legislators looking into state Supreme Court justices have been accused of engaging in a “fishing expedition.” One wonders whether that criticism was prompted by concern about the Legislature’s role — or about what “fish” lawmakers may net.

After suspended high court Justice Allen Loughry was indicted on multiple charges by a federal grand jury, legislators launched the process of determining whether he — and perhaps others on the court — ought to be impeached. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee is investigating.

Members of the panel have been working hard to learn about spending at the Supreme Court.

Last week, Supreme Court Administrator Barbara Allen wrote to the committee’s chairman, Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer. In her missive, Allen opined that “a full-fledged fishing expedition is now underway before a Committee whose members perform multiple functions: they are prosecutors, making such allegations as they deem appropriate; they are judges deciding on the relevance and materiality of the evidence for themselves and determining the standard of proof they deem sufficient; and they are jurors, deciding on whether their charges have been established by their own evidence to their own satisfaction.”

Allen added her concern for “protecting the judicial branch of government from any improper incursion, interference, or interruption of its duties.”

Clearly, she is accusing Judiciary Committee members of chipping away at separation of powers. She is wrong on several counts.

First, of course, it is the panel’s job to investigate whether impeachment proceedings are merited, then make a recommendation to the state Senate. Members of that body alone can decide whether to remove an official from office.

For years, there has been little oversight of the state’s highest court. Judiciary committee members are doing no more than something that is long overdue.

Separation of powers does not mean any of the branches of government are free to abuse their powers. Allen is well aware of that.

Legislators are doing the right thing. They should not allow themselves to be chased away from a fishing hole in which may be swimming some real lunkers.

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