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3 members of WV Supreme Court cleared by Judicial Investigation Commission, but troubles not over

The three remaining members of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals have received their first good news in weeks. The Judicial Investigation Commission has concluded its ethics investigations of Justices Robin Davis, Beth Walker and Chief Justice Margaret Workman “without taking any disciplinary action.”

The complaints centered on taxpayer paid food at working lunches for the Court, Davis’s stop at a political rally during a Court business trip, Davis’s hosting of Circuit Court conferences at her homes (in Charleston and Wyoming), and the allegation that Workman hired a campaign worker as a “ghost” employee for the Court.

The JIC found no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct in any of the activities. That’s a stark difference from an earlier JIC investigation that resulted in a 32-count statement of alleged ethical violations by Justice Allen Loughry in connection with the office renovation scandal at the Court.

It is worth noting that the members of the Judicial Investigation Commission are appointed by the State Supreme Court.  The JIC should enjoy the presumption that it conducts its investigations and reaches its conclusions based on facts and in an impartial manner.  However, the JIC members are put in an awkward position when they have to make critical decisions about the very people who appoint them.

The JIC findings, while providing some relief for the embattled justices, do not constitute absolution.  The House Judiciary Committee is continuing its impeachment investigations of the Justices. Most of the evidence so far has been against suspended Justice Allen Loughry, but the committee has wide latitude to conduct its probe.

(Read more here about the investigation.)

The State Constitution, in Article 4, Section 9, says any officer of the state may be impeached for “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty or any high crime or misdemeanor.” Additionally, the “House of Delegates shall have the sole power of impeachment.”

Therefore, the House may determine that certain behavior by a justice or justices—let’s say exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on office furnishings and renovations or even working lunches—constitutes “maladministration” even if that behavior is not a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Additionally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is believed to be continuing its investigation into Court activities to determine if any federal laws have been broken. Notably, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart tweeted out after the JIC report was released one word—“Interesting.”

The JIC investigation may be closed, but this case is far from over.

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