West Virginia lawmakers resume hearings on Supreme Court

FILE - This Oct. 3, 2012, file photo, shows West Virginia Supreme Court Republican candidate Allen Loughry, who has been indicted on 22 federal counts of fraud, witness tampering and lying to a federal agent. On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, West Virginia lawmakers started the rare process of deciding whether impeachment proceedings are necessary just days after Loughry was charged in the 22-count criminal indictment. (Craig Cunningham/The Daily Mail via AP, File)

By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers resumed hearings Thursday to consider whether to recommend impeachment proceedings for state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, who was indicted in federal court three weeks ago.
Loughry pleaded not guilty last month to multiple federal counts, including fraud. He was suspended because of allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain.
The House Judiciary Committee was given authority to investigate all Supreme Court justices for evidence of impeachable offenses.
Committee chairman John Shott said at the start of the hearings in the House of Delegates that because the justices are elected to 12-year terms, “when you think about it, the least accountable of our public officials is someone elected to the Supreme Court of Appeals. We have an obligation to also hold accountable those public officials that the public can’t hold accountable.”
Shott, R-Mercer, told committee members that they have several options: not impeach, impeach, recommend a reprimand or decide “the shedding of light is sufficient.”
If the committee recommends impeachment, the House of Delegates would then decide whether a trial would be held before the state Senate.
The last time the Legislature was involved in similar proceedings was 1989, when state Treasurer A. James Manchin was impeached by the House of Delegates after the state lost $279 million invested in the bond market. Manchin, the uncle of current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, resigned before the state Senate took up the impeachment measure. He was never charged and the state recovered $55 million from lawsuits against nine New York brokerage firms involved in the losses.
“We are in many ways plowing new ground in what we do,” Shott said.
Gov. Jim Justice and legislative leaders previously asked Loughry to resign. He has not responded.
The first witness at the hearing, Justin Robinson, acting director of the legislative post audit division, spent significant time going over audit reports about the use of state vehicles and rental cars by the five justices and former court administrator Steve Canterbury.
Robinson said Loughry signed out a state-owned vehicle on 212 days from 2013 through 2015 and did not provide a destination for most of the trips. He said that in three consecutive years Loughry reserved a vehicle during the holiday period at the end of the year even though the court was not in session.
The federal criminal indictment accuses Loughry of making personal use of a state vehicle and credit card, including for trips to book signings and to visit family. It says Loughry also sought mileage reimbursements for trips even though he drove a state vehicle and used a government credit card for gas.
The indictment also accuses him of moving a leather couch and a historic, valuable desk from the Supreme Court office to his home during office renovations; lying to federal agents about his actions; and trying to influence an employee’s testimony.
Loughry faces a maximum prison sentence of 395 years and up to $5.5 million in fines if convicted on all criminal charges.
At the start of the scheduled three-day hearing, Shott said Wednesday’s retirement announcement by Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum likely means the hearings will be shorter.
Ketchum’s retirement and Loughry’s suspension leave three active justices: Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker. The court is in recess until its fall term starts in early September.
A special election will be held in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term.