CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawyers for the state Senate are asking for Judge Ronald Wilson to step aside from serving temporarily on the Supreme Court as it considers Chief Justice Margaret Workman’s petition to halt impeachment proceedings.
On the other hand, a motion was filed on behalf of Wilson to quash a subpoena for him to serve as a witness in the impending impeachment trial of Justice Beth Walker.
Wilson hasn’t yet been available to answer his preference for squaring the roles of judge and witness in West Virginia’s historic Supreme Court impeachment cases.
He may have a tricky balancing act over the next few weeks.
“Your Honor is listed as a potential material witness in impeachment proceedings related to Petitioner’s claims and has been served with a subpoena to appear and testify in those proceedings,” wrote the lawyers for the Senate.
“Furthermore, Your Honor could also be a witness in the impeachment proceedings against Petitioner. Accordingly, we respectfully request that Your Honor recuse himself from this matter pursuant to the requirements of Appellate Rule 33 and Rule 2.11 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
Wilson, who serves on benches in the Northern Panhandle, wears yet another hat as chairman of the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission.
That organization issued a motion to quash the subpoena for Justice Walker’s trial, saying Wilson’s testimony would be inappropriate. A pretrial hearing on that matter has been set for 1 p.m. Monday, the day Walker’s Senate trial is to begin.
“The subpoena issued in this case specifically requests Judge Wilson, in his capacity as JIC Chair, to testify before the Senate in the impeachment trial of Justice Walker,” wrote staff from the Judicial Investigation Commission.
“Importantly, the request likely requires the disclosure of privileged or other protected matter to which no exception applies.”
The subpoena to serve as a witness likely extends from his role as the lead judge on West Virginia’s Judicial Investigation Commission.
That body has been a significant element of the ongoing impeachment proceedings already.
The Judicial Investigation Commission in June named Justice Allen Loughry in 32 charges relating to his conduct on the Supreme Court. The charges were a major factor kicking off the impeachment in the Legislature.
Even more relevant to the Senate trials of justices Workman and Walker is the Judicial Investigation Commission’s July conclusion that it had closed ethics complaint cases against those justices plus then-Justice Robin Davis, taking no action against them.
The commission was investigating complaints alleging the three justices used state funds to pay for lunches for themselves, their administrative assistants and court security officers while they were discussing cases and administrative matters in conference.
The commission said in letters to the justices that it found the lunches reduced the amount of time attorneys spent in court, reducing legal fees, and allowed visiting judges to return to their circuits in time to do other work the same day.
The commission, in a press release, said its policy is to not acknowledge the existence of complaints until probable cause has been found to issue a statement of charges or an admonishment.
“We are taking the unusual step of making our findings public in these cases,” Wilson stated in that release “because Supreme Court justices are the highest judicial officers in West Virginia. It is important for the public to know that allegations against them have been thoroughly investigated, and they have been cleared of wrongdoing.”
The motion to disqualify Wilson from serving on the Supreme Court as it hears Workman’s petition objects to that statement.
Workman last Friday filed a petition with the very Supreme Court that she serves on, challenging the legality of impeachment proceedings in the House of Delegates and requesting a stay of impeachment trial in the Senate.
Workman issued an order disqualifying herself from hearing her own petition for writ of mandamus.
The judges to hear her petition include Wilson, Judge Duke Bloom of Kanawha County, Judge Rudolph Murensky of McDowell County and Judge Jacob Reger of Upshur County.