CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Allen Loughry, the author of the political ethics book ‘Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide,’ is out as chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court after a series of controversies over spending extravagances.
Loughry remains on the 5-member court but he is no longer its designated leader.
The new chief justice, the court announced Friday evening, is longtime Justice Margaret Workman. The change is effective immediately, the court said. Workman’s tenure would last through Dec. 31, 2018.
The Supreme Court actually sent out three news releases to announce the change.
A statement sent out by the court on Workman’s behalf was only one line: “It’s time to begin what will be a very long process of restoring public respect for the Supreme Court.”
Loughry’s statement, also released by the court, made reference to federal authorities — although without many details.
A rumor has been circulating in recent days that federal authorities have been interviewing court officials.
As controversy has swirled over the court in recent months, Loughry several times has said he reached out to federal investigators over purchasing practices of longtime court administrator Steve Canterbury.
Loughry stated: “In 2016, I requested a federal investigation into certain practices and procedures within the Supreme Court. At the time, I was dismayed with those procedures and practices and felt that I had a legal and ethical obligation to contact federal authorities.
“In my opinion, the action taken by the court today is in response to my cooperation with federal authorities. I defer to the federal prosecutor’s office for more information.”
Controversy started with news reports about lavish furnishings at the Supreme Court.
The expenditures included the $32,000 couch in Loughry’s office, the $7,500 wooden West Virginia medallion inlaid into Loughry’s floor, the $28,194 rugs in Justice Robin Davis’s office and the $130,654 for extensive renovations of Justice Beth Walker’s chambers, even though those chambers were upgraded just seven years ago.
The drama then grew with reports that Loughry had been storing at his house a couch owned by one his predecessors plus one of the five original justices’ desks. On successive days a state van and workers removed couch and desk.
As those controversies blew up, Loughry publicly blamed Canterbury, calling him “a rogue employee.”
On broadcast appearances and in an op-ed printed in newspapers around the state, Loughry specified that he had gotten in touch with federal authorities about Canterbury.
“I became so troubled by some of the actions of Mr. Canterbury and the failure of a majority of the court to even attempt to hold him accountable that I personally contacted the United States attorney’s office,” Loughry wrote.
“That was not an easy decision to make and I am clearly receiving some ‘payback’ for taking these actions.”
The court situation has reverberated through the legislative session, with lawmakers supporting a resolution that would give the Legislature greater authority over the judicial system’s budget.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which would require a vote of citizens next November, passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate on Thursday evening. It next goes to the House.
Some lawmakers have been asking for movement to impeach Loughry. Senator Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, made a floor speech on Thursday evening pushing for impeachment proceedings.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, has on several occasions asked for the House to consider impeachment.
Told about Loughry’s removal from the chief justice position on Friday evening, Pushkin said it was a good first step.
“I think they made the right decision,” Pushkin said. “People have to have confidence in the judiciary, and I think the confidence in the judiciary has been tarnished.”