CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Judge Ronald Wilson has a couple of roles in upcoming Supreme Court impeachment proceedings that may be at odds.
Wilson, who serves on benches in the Northern Panhandle, was named this week to sit temporarily on the Supreme Court as it considers a petition by Chief Justice Margaret Workman to halt her impeachment trial.
But Wilson has also been named as a potential witness in the impeachment trial of Justice Beth Walker, which is to start Monday. Wilson’s subpoena says he should appear at 1 p.m. Monday.
Wilson wasn’t immediately available to answer questions about how he could square the two roles.
His role as a witness at that trial is likely due to yet another position he holds, 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.”
Workman on 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.
Lawyers for the state Senate have been asked to file a response by Oct. 3. After that, the acting court could consider the case.
Delegates voted to impeach Workman along with the other remaining members of the state Supreme Court on August 13 on allegations that they had overstepped their authority and committed acts of maladministration.
Workman is set for a trial in the Senate starting Oct. 15.
“When they issue that writ of mandamus, the first thing on my mind was the Supreme Court would probably issue what is called a stay order,” said Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, who is a lawyer and one of the impeachment managers from the House of Delegates.
“If they issue a stay order, I don’t know how quick they can get something turned around before her trial date.”
Workman’s petition for writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court names Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Senate pro tempore Donna Boley, Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, Senate Clerk Lee Cassis and the rest of the Senate.
Appearing today on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio, Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the case at its heart is about the Legislature’s constitutional power of impeachment.
“Any clear-headed understanding of the constitution will result in one ruling on this, that this is in the Legislature’s purview,” Carmichael said.
“We’ll see how the rulings come down and we’ll react accordingly.”