CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A special session begins at noon Tuesday to deal with impeachment proceedings related to the state Supreme Court.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott made that announcement this afternoon, and then Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement saying he would call the special session. Legislative leaders met with Justice at the Capitol on Monday afternoon.
.@WVGovernor has issued a proclamation convening an Extraordinary Session at noon Tuesday for the purpose of acting upon matters related to the removal of one or more Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. pic.twitter.com/mZblW75Nle
— WV Senate Clerk (@WVSenClerk) June 25, 2018
Shott, R-Mercer, said the special session will begin with a resolution directing the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation.
The rest of the Legislature is likely to recess while the House Judiciary Committee continues its work to determine “whether it believes there are ample grounds, described in the categories in the Constitution, to seek impeachment of one or more of the justices,” Shott said.
If impeachment would move forward, the House of Delegates would establish the articles of impeachment — essentially laying out the charges. The Senate would then serve as the jury in a trial.
House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said Democrats agree with the special session call.
“I think the manner in which it is being conducted is entirely appropriate based on the procedure,” Miley said.
“The Democrats would like us to convene and recess for a date certain which would then provide some level of pressure for the Judiciary Committee to get its work in a timely fashion.”
The historic situation has been prompted by the indictment of Justice Allen Loughry on federal charges. The 22 charges include fraud, false statement and witness tampering offenses.
Miley said he does have concerns about the impeachment process being open to more possibilities than Justice Loughry.
“I think it’s squirrely and unbecoming to name Justice Loughry specifically based upon what we all know he has been accused of while leaving it open in a very ambiguous manner to allow other unnamed justices to be accused,” Miley said.
“If you believe there are other justices who have engaged in wrongdoing and improper conduct then be bold enough to identify them.”
A letter requesting the session was put out today by Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington.
Overington was standing in for House Speaker Tim Armstead, who has said he is strongly considering a run for the Supreme Court.
Armstead said he has not yet made a decision about whether to run but believed he should avoid the appearance of impropriety.
“As the Legislature begins the process of considering possible impeachment proceedings related to members of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, it is important that this process be free from any appearance of bias,” Armstead said in his own, separate statement
The majority parties in the Legislature had started talks this morning about impeachment proceedings, with an early plan to establish the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee as subcommittees to start planning and lay the groundwork.
But after a dispute broke out about whether there would be a deadline to complete the work, lawmakers chose a different route.
“Accordingly, it was decided that, in order to ensure that any potential impeachment investigation of proceedings would comply with the requirements of the Constitution and due process of the law is followed, a special session is vital to achieve that goal,” Republican lawmakers stated in a news release.
“These types of proceedings are extremely rare, and it is critical that the proper procedures be followed given the serious and historical nature of the situation. It is imperative that this process be executed correctly, with proper respect for the historical precedence, rather than to satisfy anybody’s arbitrary political timeframe or deadline.”
August 14 is a key divide between whether an open court seat would be filled during this fall’s general election or whether the governor would appoint someone to fill the seat.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was insistent Monday that the Legislature should work toward completing any impeachment proceedings prior to that date to ensure any open Supreme Court seat would be on the November ballot.
“By prolonging the process, it takes away the power of the people to decide who our next Supreme Court justice is, if we decide to move forward with impeachment proceedings,” Fluharty said Monday afternoon, after the special session was called.
“I believe the people should have the response here, and they should be able to vote as to who would be the next Supreme Court justice in this next election instead of kicking the can down the road. By calling a special session, I think we can expedite that and do so in a constitutional way.”