West Virginia House asks High Court to review decision
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House of Delegates wants the U.S. Supreme Court to take a look at an opinion that put a stop to impeachment trials against justices of the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, announced Tuesday evening that the House filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to review the decision made by an all-appointed panel of circuit court judges in October.
“We have said since October that a strict reading of that opinion removes virtually all of the Constitutional checks and balances we have on the judicial branch of government,” Hanshaw said.
The House adopted 11 articles of impeachment against justices Margaret Workman, Allen Loughry and Beth Walker, and former justice Robin Davis Aug. 13 over the court’s lavish office spending, hiring practices of senior status judges, and overall mismanagement of the office. Workman filed a petition with the state Supreme Court in September calling for the impeachment trial process in the Senate to stop.
James Matish, a circuit judge in Harrison County, was chosen as acting chief justice to hear the Workman petition, along with Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, McDowell County Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky, Upshur County Circuit Judge Jacob Reger, and Hancock County Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson.
The acting justices ruled in a 3-2 decision Oct. 12 that the impeachment of Workman violated the separation of powers and lawmakers did not have the authority to decide on the legality of the court’s policies. The court also ruled that the House violated its own rules put in place to govern the impeachment investigation and vote.
By stopping Workman’s impeachment trial, it halted the trials for Loughry and Davis as well. Loughry resigned Nov. 12 after Gov. Jim Justice called another special session to start new impeachment proceedings against Loughry, who was convicted of 11 federal charges in October related to personal use of state property, lying to investigators, and witness tampering. He is awaiting sentencing in U.S. District Court.
Davis resigned shortly after the House impeachment vote but had filed her own suit in federal court to halt the Senate’s impeachment trial. She dropped that suit after the Workman decision came out.
Only Walker was tried by the Senate but was acquitted and censured for her role in the court’s spending, including office renovations and catered lunches for court staff paid for with tax dollars.
Hanshaw said it was not the intention of the House to re-start impeachment proceedings against Workman or any other current or former justice. Instead, the intention was to get a ruling on whether the state Supreme Court overstepped its authority and violated the separation of powers that give the House exclusive authority over impeachment.
“Our action today is not an effort to resume the impeachment proceedings against any individual, but rather an effort to restore the proper legal and Constitutional authority granted to the Legislature with regard to impeachment proceedings,” Hanshaw said. “Should a future Legislature need to begin impeachment proceedings against an elected official who has betrayed the public trust, we need to make sure it is able to act and not have its hands tied by this defective decision.”
Attorney Marc Williams, who represented Workman in her petition, said he had not seen the filing by the House but didn’t expect the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
“It is certainly their right to seek review from the Supreme Court,” Williams said. “Considering that the Court accepts less than 3 percent of petitions filed, and that the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals addressed issues of state constitutional law, it is very, very unlikely that this petition will be accepted for review.”