CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The legislative committee considering impeachment charges related to the state Supreme Court plans to reconvene next Thursday.
Although Justice Allen Loughry has received the most attention and faces federal charges, the Legislature is considering the full Supreme Court.
The House of Delegates would bring impeachment charges, and the Senate would serve as a jury.
The impeachment process began June 26 when the full House of Delegates gave its Judiciary Committee the power to remain in session and investigate.
The committee met immediately that afternoon, starting with an overview of its duties. Then it recessed to give staff time to get organized, gather documentation and prepare witness lists.
Now, starting next Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will get back together for three days, including Saturday, according to a memo sent by Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer.
The plan calls for the committee to then recess until the following Thursday, July 19, when it will convene for another three days, including that Saturday.
“Further scheduling will depend on how fast and thoroughly the process proceeds,” Shott wrote in the memo, which was distributed to delegates on the committee.
A team of managers also was named to oversee the process and, potentially, to be responsible for a trial in the state Senate.
Those include Shott along with delegates Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; Ray Hollen, R-Wirt; Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha; and Rodney Miller-D-Boone. Shott, Hanshaw and Byrd are lawyers. Hollen is a former investigator with the Coast Guard and the State Police. Miller is a former Boone County sheriff.
“Those managers will present those articles of impeachment to a full House for a vote, and if they’re adopted they’ll go over to the Senate and the managers will be responsible to sit through the trial in the Senate to assist,” Byrd said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
In preparation, Judiciary Committee staff has been gathering materials from the Legislative Auditor and, through subpoena, from the state Judicial Investigations Commission.
Byrd agreed that the committee’s scope is to look at each of the Supreme Court justices.
“We have to put our blinders on and take the evidence,” Byrd said. “There’s no burden of proof when it comes to these proceedings. In a criminal trial, you have burdens of proof, in a civil trial. This is just to determine whether the articles of impeachment should go forward.
“So we have to look at each justice independently, take the evidence as it comes, and we begin that process next Thursday.”
West Virginia’s Constitution says any officer of the state may be impeached for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.
But beyond that, there’s been little precedent or definition of what that might mean in West Virginia.
“We have to take the evidence and ensure that if we are moving forward with articles of impeachment, we have the evidence to back it up and it meets those definitions,” Byrd said.
“We’re going to have to take into consideration what’s the plain meaning of maladministration, corruption, and what does the evidence show? Is it enough for us to go forward with articles of impeachment to the full House?”
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, concurred that much of the impeachment process is uncharted territory. She agreed that the words in the state Constitution haven’t been strictly defined yet.
“It’s sort of obscure,” Fleischauer said Thursday on WAJR’s “Morgantown AM”
“It’s only happened four or five times in the history of our state that we’ve dealt with this. You kind of look to the federal level a little bit and you look to the state level, trying to figure out what these words mean.”
Fleischauer carried a thick folder of materials from the Legislative Auditor’s report and the Judicial Investigations Commission with her to the on-air interview with WAJR.
“We already have all this information. We have all these records. Statements have been taken both at the federal level and also at the state level,” Fleischauer said, going on to advocate for an expedient but fair process.
August 14 is a key date for 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.
The justice who has received the most scrutiny over the past few months is Allen Loughry, former chief justice and author of an often-cited book on political ethics.
Loughry was indicted last month on 22 federal counts, including fraud, false statement and witness tampering offenses.
Justice Menis Ketchum also has been in hot water over his use of state vehicles for personal travel.
Of Loughry, Fleischauer said, “We have enough here to say he’s guilty of maladministration, at the very least. That’s not a very hard call.
She added, “I think a lot of people think the evidence against Justice Loughry is overwhelming and that we should move quickly.”