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Beth Walker, fresh from impeachment trial, is named next chief justice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Beth Walker, recently acquitted but reprimanded by the state Senate after an impeachment trial, has been selected the new chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Walker was elected unanimously by the other current members of the court. She was nominated by current Chief Justice Margaret Workman.

“Justice Walker is a hard worker, and I think she will do an excellent job,” Workman said.

Her tenure is to begin Jan. 1, 2019. By then, two new justices will have been elected to the Supreme Court after a year of controversy and lost public trust.

Beth Walker

“I am honored by the trust placed in me by my fellow justices, and I thank Chief Justice Workman for her leadership in recent months,” Walker stated in an announcement from the court.

“My commitment to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch is unwavering, and I am ready to work with the Legislature toward better oversight of the Court’s budget.”

The decision came during a vote today by the current version of the court, which includes Walker, Justice Margaret Workman, appointed justices Evan Jenkins and Tim Armstead and acting Justice Paul Farrell.

“I think Justice Walker — soon to be Chief Justice Walker — is the right move at the right time for the future of our court,” Jenkins said today outside a Republican candidate rally in Charleston.

“We are all mindful of what the court has been through. Most importantly we need to restore the public’s trust and confidence.”

Jenkins and Armstead were appointed by the governor to the seats vacated by Robin Davis and Menis Ketchum, who each resigned during the impeachment controversies of this past summer.

Farrell is serving in place of suspended Justice Allen Loughry, who has been convicted of 11 federal counts.

This time last year, Loughry was serving as chief justice.

And if history had gone differently, his term as chief would have lasted a lot longer.

In January 2017, Loughry was elected as chief justice by his colleagues. That April they extended his term to four years.

Previously, chief justices had been elected to one-year terms, and Loughry was the first chief justice to undertake a four-year term since 1888.

Then, as controversy hit the court, Loughry’s time as chief was cut short.

This past Feb. 16, the court sent out a statement that the court’s majority had voted to make Workman the new chief justice, effective immediately.

“It’s time to begin what will be a very long process of restoring public respect for the Supreme Court,” Workman stated that day.

That announcement said Workman’s tenure would be just until this Dec. 31.

Now it’s Walker’s turn.

Walker was elected to the Supreme Court in May 2016 and began her 12-year term at the start of 2017.

Like the rest of the Supreme Court, Walker was impeached this summer by the House of Delegates. Walker faced one article of impeachment, a maladministration charge that the court failed to police itself.

Armstead, now her colleague on the Supreme Court, was among those who voted to impeach her.

“Justice Walker will do a tremendous job leading the Court during a period of historic importance to our judicial system,” Armstead stated today.

“The Court is already working each day to ensure fiscal responsibility and restore the public’s confidence in our Court, and I know Justice Walker will continue this progress as our state’s Chief Justice.”

The state Senate overwhelmingly acquitted Walker after an impeachment trial that lasted about a day and a half. But senators also passed a resolution censuring her.

Jenkins said that resolution came with a promise by Walker to improve how the court functions. So, he said, that makes her an appropriate choice for chief.

“Justice Walker obviously took responsibility for the actions of the past that she was involved with,” Jenkins said.

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