CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegates who went on a tour of the state Supreme Court said it was helpful to visualize what has been described during impeachment hearings.
Delegates described their impressions after returning from the 40-minute tour of the Supreme Court. The tour place in two different groups because of the size of the committee and staff.
“It was interesting to see in person,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who was back in the House Chamber after going on the tour.
“It’s kind of like you’re really, really curious and, then when you see it, it was kind of what you’d expected.”
Today marked the seventh day of testimony as the House Judiciary Committee considers impeachment of one or more Supreme Court justices.
Reports over spending on Supreme Court office renovations started a series of controversies that led to the impeachment proceedings.
Stories by WCHS-TV about renovations in the court focused on a $32,000 couch in Loughry’s office, the $7,500 wooden West Virginia medallion inlaid into Justice Allen 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.
Fleischauer today said she was interested in seeing the much-discussed $32,000 couch and the inlaid West Virginia medallion on the wooden floor of Justice Allen Loughry’s office.
“You want to see both of those things in particular. I guess when I saw the sketch I thought it would be kind of bigger. But they’re not that big,” Fleischauer said. “The wood is beautiful.”
She said the natural comparison is to other public areas in the Capitol. The natural point of comparison is to the furnishings in the Legislature.
“I think it doesn’t compare to what the minority has and what the Republicans had for a very, very long time. It was really shabby when we were in the majority of the House.”
She said she appreciated the beauty of many of the areas of the Supreme Court — the ornate molding, for example, but the cost has been an eye-opener.
“I have been very, very shocked by the large numbers — the $32,000 couch, the large chair. Or the pillows really shocked me. They didn’t look like they were worth $1,800. I think they could have skimped there.”
But a draft set of articles impeachment put forward by Democrats last week does not include the expenses as a factor. They have said that is because the court has been responsible for its own budget decisions, so it’s hard to demonstrate justices went beyond their authority.
“That’s a murkier issue than some of the other ones — lying, stealing,” Fleischauer said. “It’s still a little murky. It’s still shocking.”
Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, agreed that the tour was helpful to judge whether such expenses seemed appropriate.
“I looked at that couch and to me, it didn’t look different from a $900 couch,” said Hollen, one of the impeachment managers who was lingering on the East Wing breezeway after the tour concluded.
“So where is the value in that couch? I know the reupholstery was an expensive item beyond the expense of the couch, and the necessity of that reupholstery is what I would question.”
Hollen said he can now better visualize what some of the testimony describes.
“It does. It puts a light on the dollar figures that we’ve been hearing and what they were getting for their dollar. It puts a light on it,” Hollen said.
Delegate Phil Isner, D-Randolph, described Justice Loughry’s office as particularly ornate.
“As I went through the offices, certainly Justice Loughry’s office stood out to me, relative to the other offices we walked through,” Isner said when he was back in the House chamber.
“Justice Davis’s office was also rather impressive, but the $32,000 couch, the inlay in the floor, the $1,800 worth of pillows certainly stood out to me as I walked through the office.”
The judiciary committee is scheduled to continue hearing testimony in its impeachment proceedings of one or more members of the Court. This is the seventh day of testimony for the impeachment hearings for one or more justices.
MetroNews Legal Analyst Harvey Peyton said the tour was important to let the committee members see if the proof meets the allegations.
“If the evidence matches the reality,” Peyton said.
MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny was the pool reporter on the tour and will provide more details later at wvmetronews.com.