CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Friday evening suspended state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry should resign following allegations of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“If the charges are accurate, I would urge Justice Loughry to resign and spare the court and state any further embarrassment,” Justice said in a statement.
The governor’s statement comes after both state Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead said Loughry should step aside.
“A public servant under that many allegations should step aside,” Carmichael, R-Jackson, told MetroNews.
Loughry, who ran as a Republican when he was elected to the Court, was named Wednesday in a statement of charges from the state Judicial Investigation Commission that he allegedly violated the state judicial code 32 times.
Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the accusations are serious.
“Particularly the charge that he did not answer questions truthfully while under oath to this Legislature – I believe the time has come for Justice Loughry to put the best interests of our state first and resign,” Armstead said in a statement released by his office.
Loughry was suspended without pay earlier Friday by a five-member temporary Supreme Court.
According to Friday’s order, “the Court is of the opinion that there is probable cause to believe the respondent has engaged or is currently engaging in serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
The Court did not immediately rule on the request that Loughry’s law license be suspended.
Loughry can request a hearing on the suspension order. He has to make the request within 30 days.
Justice called the allegations against Loughry “extremely troubling.”
“At the very least, this has cast a very negative shadow on the state of West Virginia. Obviously, the Supreme Court understood the seriousness of this situation and suspended him without pay,” he said.
Controversy began last year after recent stories about pricey renovations at the Supreme Court: the $32,000 couch and $7,500 wooden inlaid floor in Loughry’s office, a $500,000 office renovation and $28,000 rugs in Justice Robin Davis’s office, and a $130,000 upgrade of Justice Beth Walker’s chambers.
The Judicial Investigation Commission concluded that a multitude of emails showed Loughry was heavily involved with the $363,000 design and renovation of his office, including a $7,500 custom-made wooden medallion of the State of West Virginia built into the floor with his home county of Tucker in blue granite.
“For example, the respondent submitted a rough hand drawing with detailed notes done by him depicting how he would like his office to look upon completion,” according to the statement of charges. “Importantly, the drawing contained the floor medallion.”
The JIC alleges Loughry lied to reporters several times, lied in an op-ed piece and lied to members of the House of Finance Committee when he was making the Court’s budget presentation.
The JIC has its own process that’s is underway that could include a hearing and further recommendation to the Supreme Court. A federal indictment would put the process on hold.
The Democratic Caucuses of the West Virginia Legislature sent a letter to Carmichael and Armstead Friday calling on their support of a call for the immediate resignation.
“Should Justice Loughry refuse to resign, we urge the Governor or, alternatively, members of the Legislature call for a special session immediately to begin impeachment proceedings. This corruption and continued disruption to our judicial process must come to an end,” the letter, which was signed by Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and House Minority Leader Tim Miley, said.
Justice said impeachment is up to the state Legislature, but he will talk to legislative leaders about any desire to move forward with proceedings.
“In the event of sufficient interest, I would be open to calling a special session,” he said.
Carmichael said Loughry should step aside for the good of the Court and the system.
“If he feels these things are inappropriate and there’s no truth to them he should have the opportunity to defend himself but in the meantime he should step aside,” he said.
Armstead said it’s time to begin repairing the damage.
“This situation has cast a pall over our state’s highest court and undermined the public’s confidence in our judicial system,” Armstead said.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit, who was appointed Wednesday to be the temporary chief justice of the Court appointed four our judges Thursday to join her on the bench to hear the motion.
Tabit appointed Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert Burnside, Greenbrier County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dent, Monongalia County Circuit Judge Russell Clawges and Senior Status, former Greenbrier County judge, Judge Jim Rowe.