Senators acquit Justice Walker on impeachment charge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia senators overwhelmingly voted to acquit Justice Beth Walker of a single impeachment charge, censuring her instead.

Beth Walker

“I am grateful to the members of the West Virginia Senate for their careful deliberations and for permitting me to continue to serve the citizens of this great state as a Justice,” Walker stated after the Senate’s vote.

“I look forward to getting back to the important work of deciding cases fairly and impartially based on the rule of law. In addition, we have serious work to do to improve the administration of the Court and prevent inappropriate future expenditures.”

The impeachment vote was 32-1 with Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, as the sole vote to uphold Walker’s impeachment on a maladministration charge. Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was away on a work obligation.

Senators did pass a resolution to reprimand Walker, who joined the Supreme Court in 2017.

The resolution says Walker was among the justices failing to provide oversight of the court, resulting in wasted state funds.

But it says Walker has publicly acknowledged the need for changed policies and practices to rebuild public trust in the court. It goes on to say the Senate believes Justice Walker should work to implement reforms to prevent future inappropriate expenditures.

Ryan Ferns

Senators from both parties suggested that was an appropriate resolution for Walker, whose impeachment trial lasted two days.

“There was no evidence presented that justified the high standard of impeachment,” said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio. “There was evidence of wrongdoing. Justice Walker acknowledged in her testimony those wrongdoing, took responsibility for those wrongdoings.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, expressed agreement.

Mitch Carmichael

“At this point, in the minds of the body, it did not rise to the level of overturning the voters’ decision to put her in to office to begin with,” Carmichael said.

“While the things that happened were poor judgement, she’s admitted to the poor judgement and it did not rise to the level of removing someone from office.”

Censuring Walker was an appropriate outcome, Carmichael said.

“We express our absolute conviction that this should not occur, that what she did was wrong,” Carmichael said.

Roman Prezioso

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, also contended the outcome was appropriate.

“It was very clear that she didn’t break any law. She was very conciliatory. I thought the right decision was made,” Prezioso said.

Prezioso said a public official should take censure seriously.

“I would take it seriously, if I were censured. It would certainly be a cloud over your head. It does indicate that something did happen that needs to be fixed,” he said.

Walker was named in only one of the 11 impeachment articles passed by the House of Delegates. That’s the fewest of any of the justices.

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.

Essentially, the article claims the justices failed to hold each other accountable. All of the remaining justices were named in that article.

Walker was the star witness in the impeachment trial, which lasted two days.

“I want to apologize for being here. I regret so much the mistakes I made, and I’m sorry,” she told the senators who are serving as the Court of Impeachment.

“I need to apologize to the taxpayers and to you, so I want to apologize for all of this. I believe people can learn from their mistakes. I have learned from my mistakes to be sure. I think we can restore public trust in the judiciary. I appreciate your consideration.”

Witness testimony concluded Tuesday morning with former state budget director Mike McKown, who described the financial troubles of the state over the years the Supreme Court justices are accused of playing loose with taxpayer dollars.

During closing statements, Walker’s attorneys underscored the theme that she admitted mistakes and poor judgment about taxpayer-funded working lunches and expensive office renovations. But they said, as Walker did, that those misjudgments did not rise to being removed from office.

John Shott

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, made the case that when Walker joined the court she joined its entitled culture rather than clearly working hard to change it.

Shott’s closing argument asked three questions of senators:

1. Has the public lost trust in the Supreme Court?

2. Has Justice Walker’s performance while no one was looking contributed to that?

3. Will keeping her on the court for 10 more years help or hurt efforts to restore that trust?

Stephen Baldwin

In the end, only Senator Baldwin agreed with that position.

“For me, this was a judgment call,” Baldwin told reporters.

“Maladministration is a judgment call that everyone here has to make as an individual. Looks like I’m the only one here that this role to the level of impeachment, but for me it did.”

Senator Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, accused Baldwin of being motivated by the upcoming election.

Craig Blair

“There was 32 of us who said no and one who said yes. I actually think that one vote to impeach her was a pandering vote,” Blair said.

“Elections shouldn’t be influencing what we’re doing. We are impartial. At least 32 of us are.”

Next up is the scheduled Oct. 15 impeachment trial for Chief Justice Margaret Workman.

Workman’s legal team has made a motion to continue her trial because of concerns over how the election may affect senators’ mindsets.

Workman has also asked the state Supreme Court to halt her Senate trial.

Similarly, retired Justice Robin Davis has filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking that her own impeachment trial be stopped and alleging that her constitutional rights are being violated.

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