CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Chief Justice Margaret Workman says she has done nothing personally to merit removal from office through an impeachment trial.
“I don’t have one blemish on my record of integrity and good conduct,” she said today. “I can’t help but believe this is a political ‘get our own people in there’ kind of effort when they won’t even tell me what I’m accused of.”
Workman, appearing today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” said she understands the public outrage over West Virginia’s Supreme Court and agrees that much of the court’s spending was unnecessary and out of control.
But Workman said she doesn’t understand how her own removal from office can be considered when she is not singled out for any misdeeds.
“Every day, I look at all the things in the media and social media and comments made by members of the Legislature, and I feel like I am being lumped in with other people who did wrong things and I didn’t do any wrongful conduct,” Workman said on “Talkline.”
“I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes. But I didn’t do the things that the impeachment allegations are about, as far as that catch-all maladministration Article 14. All five of us are being clumped together, and I can’t even find out from the House what I’m being accused of.”
Workman faces three impeachment charges. One is an overriding maladministration allegation that the justices did not hold each other accountable. The other two have to do with the overpayment of senior status judges.
“I would accept responsibility for anything I have done personally, and I would accept responsibility if I did not support good policy,” Workman said today.
Justices Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum face federal charges. The allegation they have in common is the use of state vehicles and purchasing cards to go to private events.
“I had no idea they were doing it, or you could bet your bottom dollar I’d be raising objection,” Workman said today.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) September 28, 2018
Workman, last Friday, filed a petition with the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of impeachment proceedings in the House of Delegates and requesting a stay of impeachment trial in the Senate.
The chief justice, Workman issued an order disqualifying herself from hearing her own petition for writ of mandamus.
Workman and her lawyers also have filed more than a dozen motions with the state Senate, asking for her impeachment trial to be delayed and for the articles to be dismissed.
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.
Workman faces three articles. One is an all-encompassing maladministration charge, saying the justices failed to hold each other accountable.
That article accuses all four remaining justices of failing to establish policies about remodeling state offices, travel budgets, computers for home use and framing of personal items.
The other two articles that name Workman are somewhat redundant. They allege she signed off on a policy skirting state law by allowing senior status judges to exceed a cap on how much money they can make each year when they serve in open courtrooms around the state.
One of those two articles specifically names Workman. In the other, Workman and retired Justice Robin Davis are named together.
Workman today contended that senior status judges are necessary to fill open seats in courtrooms across the state. She said the Constitution’s requirements to be responsive to justice for citizens would outweigh any statute limiting what senior status judges may earn in a year.
“Quite honestly, until this year, I was unaware of the statute. When a statute conflicts with a provision of the Constitution, the Constitution is going to have to prevail,” Workman said today.
She added, “The Constitution says it’s the responsibility of the judicial system to keep the courts open.”
The impeachment trials in the Senate are scheduled to start Monday with Justice Beth Walker, who faces one article that she failed to hold her fellow justices accountable.
During a pretrial hearing Sept. 11, senators knocked down a proposed settlement that would have kept Workman and Walker on the court.
Impeachment articles would have been dismissed for Walker and Workman. Instead, they would have agreed to accept censure and steer the court toward greater responsibility.
“I was willing to accept that,” Workman said today.
Workman has served two terms on the West Virginia Supreme Court.
In 1988, Workman became the first woman in West Virginia history to be elected to the state’s highest court. She was also the first West Virginian woman to win any statewide office.
Workman left the court in 2000 after one term but then ran again and was re-elected to the court in November 2008. Her current term ends in 2020.
She was elected chief justice this past February, replacing suspended Justice Loughry, who faces two dozen federal charges.
Workman appeared twice before a committee of top legislators over the past year to respond to audits of the Supreme Court. She also was present in her office as delegates considering impeachment toured the court, offering to answer anyone’s questions.
“I feel like I was working on these things all along,” Workman said today.