10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Justice Ketchum steps away from the Supreme Court

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum resigned his seat today after months of controversy surrounding the court and ahead of a deadline for the vacated seat to be on the November ballot.

Menis Ketchum

Ketchum is retiring, effective at the end of the business day July 27. The justice, whose resignation letter was handwritten, said he would have no further comment.

Justice Allen Loughry has been suspended from the court following state and federal probes that focused on his use of state property and whether he was honest with investigators.

So with Loughry suspended and Ketchum resigning, the court would only have three active justices — Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker. The court’s fall session is to begin in early September.

Workman said she would miss Ketchum personally and professionally.

Justice Workman

“Justice Ketchum has brought a great  work ethic and strong intellect to his work on the Court, as well as fairness and compassion for people whose cases we hear,” she said.

An impeachment process focused on the entire Supreme Court is set to kick off in earnest Thursday at the state Legislature. The House Judiciary Committee will begin gathering evidence in a broad review of all the justices.

Ketchum, particularly, was caught up in an investigation of the use of state vehicles by justices for personal gain. A legislative audit revealed that Ketchum should have indicated his use of the vehicles on his personal income tax returns but did not.

Delegate Mike Caputo, the minority whip, said it was right for Ketchum to resign. Caputo, D-Marion, said Loughry should do the same.

Mike Caputo

“The shenanigans in our highest court are inexcusable,” Caputo stated. “The people of West Virginia have lost faith in the integrity of our judicial system, and rightfully so. The abuse of power and the misuse of taxpayer dollars in our state’s highest court is sickening—and Justice Ketchum has played an active role in this corruption.

“Justice Ketchum has taken advantage of his position in the Supreme Court, and in doing so he has taken advantage of the West Virginia voters who elected him.  I urge Justice Loughry to follow in Justice Ketchum’s footsteps and submit his resignation immediately.”

At this date, a replacement for Ketchum could be decided by voters in the November general election. August 14 is the cutoff for whether a court vacancy could go on the ballot or would be subject to appointment by the governor.

In any case, Justice stated in an announcement about Ketchum that he has directed Abraham to provide necessary documentation to the Judicial Vacancy Commission and other state agencies. It’s possible the governor would appoint someone to the bench prior to the court beginning its fall term and prior to the general election.

Democrats in the Legislature have pushed for impeachment proceedings to conclude prior to that date so any vacated position could be on the ballot.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, announced earlier this year he is interested in running for Supreme Court and would not be running again as a delegate. He has recused himself from some of the legislative activities surrounding Supreme Court impeachment. Some other state lawmakers may also be interested in running for Supreme Court.

Ketchum was elected to the Supreme Court on November 4, 2008, and his term ends in 2020. He served as chief justice of the court in 2012 and in 2016.

Gov. Jim Justice

Governor Justice sent a letter to Justice Ketchum acknowledging his resignation and retirement and thanking him, on behalf of the people of West Virginia, for his public service during his tenure on the State Supreme Court.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also thanked Ketchum for his service and said this is part of the healing process for trust in West Virginia’s public officials.

“We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Ketchum to step down from the Court. I believe we can begin the process of restoring the faith and trust of our citizens in the judicial branch,” Carmichael stated.

More of the remaining Supreme Court justices also expressed gratitude for Ketchum’s service.

“I will miss Justice Ketchum’s wit, insight, and diligence,” Justice Davis stated. “He worked long hours serving this Court and this state and did so with a true desire to serve the public. It is unfortunate.”

Justice Walker added, ““I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Justice Ketchum, who always took the time to mentor me as a new Justice. He set a great example with his commitment to fairness and the rule of law. I will miss him.”

Ketchum spent most of his work life at his family’s Huntington-based firm, Greene, Ketchum & Baker. He spent more than 40 years at the firm, eventually becoming the senior partner.

He became subject of public scrutiny this year because of his use of state vehicles dating back several years.

Ketchum obtained official permission from his fellow justices in 2012 to start using a state vehicle to commute between the Capitol and his home in Huntington.

Ketchum regularly used a state-owned Buick to commute to the court from his Huntington home. Ketchum also took the car to several out-of-state golf outings.

Ketchum had his W-2 forms retroactively updated to reflect that, the audit stated. Ketchum also repaid the state $1,663.81 for incorrect travel expenses.

Ketchum’s resignation letter was handwritten.


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