Senators take next steps toward impeachment trials for Supreme Court

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The next step in the impeachment of West Virginia’s Supreme Court starts Monday in the state Senate.

Senators will be working on the rules for the jury trials of West Virginia’s remaining three justices, Margaret Workman, Beth Walker and suspended Allen Loughry.

“It doesn’t feel very good at all,” said Senator Mark Drennan, R-Putnam, one of those who would serve on a jury told WMOV Radio. “You can’t deny there’s history being made for all the wrong reasons. I just want to go in and look at the facts and try to make the right decisions.”

Members of the House of Delegates voted in favor of 11 impeachment articles last week. Also impeached was Justice Robin Davis, who announced her resignation the following day. Justice Menis Ketchum resigned the day before the impeachment process began.

The Senate’s role is to serve as a jury to determine whether to now remove the remaining justices from their jobs.

The Senate’s floor session begins at noon Monday, but its immediate work will be preparation rather than the trial.

Senators will debate and adopt Senate Resolution 203, Adoption of Court of Impeachment Rules.

The rules may be the subject of debate.

A draft version of the rules distributed to senators last week specified that each justice will be tried separately. The presiding judge for the trial would determine the order that the trials will be set.

Mitch Carmichael

Senate President Mitch Carmichael has described aiming for mid-September to start the trials.

“Each individual is handled separately,” Carmichael, R-Jackson, said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “There will not be a consolidation of those articles of impeachment. Each one will be handled separately which I believe is the proper way to handle it.”

The proposed rules specify that after justices receive a summons to appear before the Senate, their attorneys will have five days to request discovery. Trial managers and attorneys for the House of Delegates will then have 10 days to provide copies of evidence and witness lists.

Once the rules of the court of impeachment have been adopted, the Senate will receive notice from the House of Delegates that managers have been appointed to prosecute a trial of impeachment.

The managers who have been appointed are: House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, House Judiciary Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt; Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha; and Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone.

The state Constitution calls for the presiding judge for the Senate’s impeachment trial to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court or another justice designated by the court.

That has been a sticky issue since all of the remaining justices have now been impeached.

Chief Justice Workman on August 9 appointed Cabell Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to the Supreme Court, specifying that he would preside over any impeachment trial.

Walker put out a statement disagreeing with the move to pre-emptively place Farrell over an impeachment trial.

“I believe it is improper to designate any justice as Acting Chief Justice for impeachment proceedings in which I or my colleagues may have an interest and that have not yet commenced in the Senate,” Walker stated.

Margaret Workman

Each of those justices, Workman and Walker, put out statements last week saying they would not resign from office.

“I am not resigning, either from the Court or from my position as Chief Justice,” Workman stated. “There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do.”

Walker also vowed to remain on duty.

Beth Walker

“I remain committed to my oath of office and to serving the citizens of this great state. My focus will be on earning their trust and confidence and restoring integrity to their Supreme Court,” Walker stated.

“Even though I disagree with some of the decisions of the House of Delegates, I respect their important constitutional role in this process and I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions. I look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the state Senate.”

Loughry faces seven articles of impeachment, Workman faces three and Walker faces one.

The justices were accused of crossing the line on a variety of items, including failure to hold each other accountable, signing off on skirting the law on payment of senior status judges and spending lavishly on office renovations.

Two of the articles against Workman are very similar ones having to do with the senior status judges issue. One singled her out, and another focused on both Workman and Davis, who has now resigned.

The remaining article against Workman — and the only one involving Walker — takes the broad view that the justices failed to keep each other accountable on issues such as the court’s travel policies, reporting of taxable fringe benefits and oversight of purchasing cards.

The Supreme Court’s fall schedule starts Sept. 5.

Loughry’s federal trial on more than two dozen counts is currently set for Oct. 2.

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