CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court has established a set of policies addressing several of the issues that got justices in hot water last year.
The new written policies were provided at the request of West Virginia MetroNews.
“Once we get these policies going, we’ve got a full list of others,” Chief Justice Beth Walker told delegates last month during a House Finance Committee meeting.
“I’m very excited. We’re working as a team, the five of us, to earn your trust, the public’s trust and to restore the confidence and integrity of the courts system.”
Walker, while presenting the proposed annual budget for the courts system, described the policies to delegates that day.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, made direct reference to the impeachment process that enveloped the Supreme Court last year.
“The elephant in the room is this body impeached an entire branch of government last fall,” Sponaugle said. “It would appear to me you all are putting forth a good faith effort in setting forth these policies.”
Walker responded, “We went through a tremendous storm. After a storm ends, you figure out how you’re going to repair. We recognize the damage to morale of our employees, the damage to the public’s view of the judiciary. We are all five committed. We are united in this effort.”
All of the remaining members of the Supreme Court were impeached last summer by the House of Delegates.
One of the impeachment counts was a catch-all that said the justices had failed to hold each other accountable by establishing policies over travel, the reporting of taxable fringe benefits, the use of purchasing cards, how to properly use state property and state vehicles, or purchasing procedures.
Justice Menis Ketchum was not impeached because he resigned the day before the proceedings began. However, Ketchum pleaded guilty to a federal mail fraud count for his use of a state vehicle and a state-issued fuel card to travel to golf outings in Virginia. His sentencing is set for Feb. 27.
Justice Allen Loughry resigned from the court late last year after being convicted on 11 federal counts. A judge later acquitted him on one of the counts. Loughry’s sentencing is Feb. 13.
Loughry was prosecuted for using a state vehicle and state fuel card for personal travel. He also was accused of moving an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk from the state Capitol to his home.
And another count accused Loughry of prompting a court spokeswoman to lie to reporters by saying there was a longstanding policy of allowing justices to keep home offices with computers and furniture.
Similar allegations during the impeachment process resulted in testimony by court technology workers that state-issued computers in Loughry’s home wound up being used for family photos and video games.
Each of the policies newly-issued by the court goes into detail about how state resources should and shouldn’t be used by officials in the court system.
Walker, speaking recently on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” described undertaking an accountability and transparency initiative.
“We are adopting the policies that should have been done a long time ago,” she said. “All of that to let people know we are being more responsible.”
Here are the new policies:
“Travel policies now spell out not using state vehicles for personal reasons,” Walker told delegates.
She added that the policies put the court system’s vehicle fleet in state fleet management.
2019 01 24 Asset Management PolProc (Clean) (Text)
“That better dictates to our employees what they’re allowed and not allowed to do with their computers,” Walker said.
“We want to make sure everyone understands we no longer allow personal items like family photographs to be stored on the court’s computers. This is kind of a baseline policy for us. Our IT folks are going to build on this policy to add security.”