The sticky web that is the Legislature’s impeachment process for three current members and one former member of the state Supreme Court has now become even more tangled. The attorney for Justice Margaret Workman has filed a motion with the state Supreme Court challenging the legality of the impeachment proceedings.
First, consider this conundrum: The state Supreme Court is being asked to stop the impeachment of a member of the state Supreme Court. Obviously neither Workman nor any other Justice facing impeachment can hear the case, but still…
Workman, Justice Beth Walker, suspended Justice Allen Loughry and retired Justice Robin Davis were all impeached by the House of Delegates on allegations related to excessive spending on office furnishings, improper payments to senior status judges and a general lack of oversight of the court’s finances.
The upcoming Senate trials will determine whether Workman, Walker and Loughry should be removed from office. The result of a conviction of Davis is less certain since she has already removed herself from the Court.
Workman’s attorneys want the high court to stop her Senate trial, which is scheduled to begin October 15, arguing that the impeachment process has violated the constitutional separation of powers. Her lawyers’ petition is colorful and dripping with sarcasm; “What nefarious deeds of the Petitioner served as the basis for these Articles?… The Petitioner had the audacity to perform the duties and exercise the powers mandated to her by the West Virginia Constitution.”
The petition is a big time challenge by Workman to the entire impeachment process, a throw down of constitutional proportions that contends the Legislature overstepped its authority and the law to punish Workman.
That argument is questionable, despite the impassioned language in the petition. Article IV, Section 9 of the West Virginia Constitution gives the Legislature broad powers to impeach “any officer of the State” for “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.” The House has the power to impeach and the Senate “shall have the sole power to try impeachments.”
Still, Workman has filed a petition and it will have to be heard. I suspect she will lose the argument, but if she prevails, the entire impeachment proceeding will be undermined. This is yet another reason why the Senate should have accepted the offer by the House impeachment managers to censure Workman and Walker, dismiss the articles of impeachment against Davis, continue with the trial of Loughry and be done with it.
The refusal to accept the settlement triggers an aggressive defense by the justices, as one would expect. Now the Legislature must not only push ahead with difficult prosecutions, but also defend its constitutional authority to even bring articles of impeachment.