CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry hasn’t offered a hint of defense over the past few days, even as pressure mounts.
Controversy over Loughry came to a head this week when the state Judicial Investigations Commission leveled charges that Loughry lied repeatedly — including the withholding of a federal subpoena from his fellow justices — and used his office for personal gain.
Loughry offered no response, official or otherwise, to the charges.
And he and his lawyer have remained silent so far even as calls to resign have cascaded from West Virginia’s leading political figures.
Loughry has had plenty to say about political corruption in the past. His book, “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid And Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia” is 623 pages.
Gov. Jim Justice was the latest to nudge Loughry toward quitting with a Friday evening statement.
“If the charges are accurate, I would urge Justice Loughry to resign and spare the court and state any further embarrassment,” Justice stated, adding that he would be open to a special session to consider impeachment.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead have each called for Loughry to resign. “Our citizens must have faith in their judicial system, and this situation is untenable,” Carmichael stated Friday.
Armstead’s call is politically tricky since he announced earlier this year that he doesn’t plan to run for House again but instead is considering a run for Supreme Court.
He decided to call out Loughry. “This situation has cast a pall over our state’s highest court and undermined the public’s confidence in our judicial system,” Armstead stated. “It’s time to begin repairing that damage.”
Those statements came after legislative Democrats put out their own call for Loughry to resign or the commencement of impeachment proceedings. “Only the Legislature can remove him from
office prior to the expiration of his term,” the Democrats wrote.
Loughry was suspended without pay Friday by a panel of temporary Supreme Court justices led by Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit. The temporary justices withheld any decision about Loughry’s law license.
The Judicial Investigations Commission stacked up 32 charges against Loughry, the result of an investigation that began in February.
The commission started asking for his response almost immediately, Feb. 20, according to its formal statement of charges.
Loughry was granted a continuance to March 16.
Then he was granted a continuance to mid-April.
In late April, he was given a continuance until May 14 answer the complaints and was advised that he wouldn’t get more time after that.
“By letter dated May 14, Respondent declined to submit a response within the time requested citing certain reasons.”
The reasons were not described in the formal charges.
These were not the first public accusations leveled against Loughry.
A legislative audit released in April revealed that Loughry and fellow Justice Menis Ketchum drove state vehicles for personal use without properly claiming the perk as a taxable fringe benefit.
The accusation about the vehicles wound up being an aspect of the Judicial Investigations Commission charges against Loughry.
Ketchum had his W-2 forms retroactively updated to reflect his use of the vehicles, the audit stated. Ketchum also repaid the state $1,663.81 for incorrect travel expenses.
Loughry submitted a brief memo disputing the results of the audit.
“I disagree with the factual and legal assumptions made, the standards and definitions applied, and the conclusions ultimately reached in the draft audit report,” Loughry wrote.
No further explanation was offered.
There are hints of a bigger hammer. And that’s where Loughry’s focus might be.
One of the charges from the Judicial Investigation Commission dealt with a federal subpoena that was delivered to the court last December. Its existence initially was hidden from the other justices, the commission wrote.
Rumors have swirled about a federal investigation of Loughry, but that portion of the JIC charges served as confirmation in black and white.
“Respondent, who was Chief Justice at the time, knew of the subpoena as did the Administrative Director and the then-General Counsel for the Administrative Division,” the JIC charges stated.
“Respondent never informed the other justices of the subpoena, even though it may have sought items specific to one or more members of the court.”
Importantly, the statement of charges noted, any of the other justices could have challenged the subpoena “but obviously could not if they were unaware of its existence.”
Another subpoena came to the Court this past February. This time, the other justices were made aware of it.
“During a conversation about it, the General Counsel let slip that there had been a previous subpoena issued in December 2017. Because of this important development the other justices lost trust in Respondent as chief justice and removed him from office later that day by a vote of four to one,” the JIC wrote.
“The sole vote for retention came from respondent.”
Loughry may have gone silent now, but it’s actually his own words in defense of emerging scandal that led him deeper into this mess.
Controversy began last year after stories about pricey renovations at the Supreme Court, particularly the $363,000 design and renovation of Loughry’s 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.
Reports by Kennie Bass of WCHS-TV last November focused on the lavish renovations.
The Judicial Investigations Commission concluded that Loughry lied publicly and repeatedly in response to Bass and other journalists when he tried to deflect blame toward former Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury.
“In the portion of the interview that aired on television, Respondent clearly lied three times to Mr. Bass and the public about his level of involvement in the design and renovation of his office.”
He lied again in a newspaper op-ed and then to Delegate Eric Householder in a House Finance meeting, the Judicial Investigation Commission stated.
In the House hearing, Loughry had sworn an oath prior to testifying about the Supreme Court budget.
The formal charges by the Judicial Investigations Commission characterized Loughry’s written words about political corruption, those published in his book, as aggravating factors in his case.
The formal charges highlighted some of the most egregious examples that were printed under Loughry’s name.
“Part of the driving force behind my decision to write this book is the fact that I am so outraged with my state’s political corruption,” Loughry wrote in his book.
“The countless disgusting examples of politicians violating the people’s trust are not just embarrassing and disheartening but have completely shattered by confidence in my state’s government.”