CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee amended a Senate bill Monday to link judicial retirement fund allocations to a controversial ruling last year by a fill-in state Supreme Court.
Senate Bill 298 is a measure dealing with the payment of senior status judges. That was an issue during last year’s impeachment proceedings. Several members of the Supreme Court were named in articles of impeachment for the alleged overpayment of those judges. The bill sets the rate for those senior status judges and how long they can be paid.
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, successfully amended the bill Monday saying the legislature would stop funding judicial retirement accounts until an October ruling by a fill-in state Supreme Court stopping the impeachment trial against Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman is overturned.
The amendment reads:
“Until Workman v. Carmichael is overturned by the Court, and the Court fully recognizes that it has no legitimate constitutional authority over the powers of impeachment that solely belong to the legislature, even in the case of limited judicial review, then the legislature shall not fund the retirement system for judges or justices as set out in this article.”
McGeehan said the fill-in Court upset the balance of power.
“Essentially what the acting state Supreme Court of Appeals did with that decision was elevate itself to be a superior branch. Now there are no longer in this state three co-equal branches. We have one branch that believes it’s superior and it did so with that decision. We cannot let that decision stand as law,” McGeehan said.
The amendment passed on a 13-9 vote. Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said he understood McGeehan’s point but the move would set a bad precedent.
“The idea that we as one branch of government would hold the retirement of another branch hostage unless they decide a case the way we want them to decide is a dangerous step,” Lovejoy said.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who also voted no, said this is what opponents of last year’s constitutional amendment on Court funding said might happen.
“One of the arguments made against that is that we would overstep our bounds and use bills like this to violate separation of powers. I can’t support this now,” Pushkin said.
The acting Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking the state Senate’s from beginning Workman’s impeachment trial.
The Court ruled the allegations in three articles of impeachment against Workman violated the separation of powers doctrine.
In addition, the acting Supreme Court ruled the House of Delegates never formally approved the impeachment resolution against the justices.
“This case is not about whether or not a justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia can or should be impeached; but rather it is about the fact that to do so, it must be done correctly and constitutionally with due process,” the ruling said.
McGeehan said the legislature has the power of the purse and there’s no reason not to use it in response to the fill-in Court’s decision.
“We should exercise that power in order to rectify clear classical constitutional government in this state,” McGeehan said. “I believe we need to send a strong message and we need to reclaim our powers of impeachment.”
The bill next goes to the House Finance Committee.