CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “I’m just plain guilty,” the words from former state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum when he spoke before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Wednesday at his sentencing hearing on a fraud conviction.
“I’m sorry, but sorry is no excuse,” Ketchum, 76, told the judge.
Ketchum pleaded guilty last August to using a state vehicle and state gas card for personal trips to Virginia to play golf. He was sentenced by Copenhaver to spend the next three years on probation. He was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay just more than $749.00 in restitution.
Copenhaver called Ketchum’s offense “much less significant” than that of former Justice Allen Loughry who lied to investigators as part of the same Court finances investigation. Copenhaver sentenced Loughry to two years in prison last month.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright didn’t oppose probation. He called Ketchum’s crime tragic but “in the end, he did the right thing after doing the wrong thing.”
Copenhaver told Ketchum he had risked so much for so little but the judge also recognized Ketchum’s admission of guilt.
“You promptly reimbursed the state,” Copenhaver said. “Once you knew you’d been charged you resigned.”
Copenhaver said the probation officer who did Ketchum’s pre-sentencing report said Ketchum was the most remorseful defendant he had dealt with in his 18 years on the job.
“The court recognizes your sincere regret,” Copenhaver said.
Ketchum could have been sentenced to up to six months in federal prison. He also could have been placed on home confinement during his three years probation but Copenhaver opted to allow Ketchum to keep his freedom.
“You’ve lost so much. This was a single blemish on a stellar career,” Copenhaver said.
The judge said he was impressed by the number of letters he received on Ketchum’s behalf. He noted a letter from a minister, another from the general counsel at Marshall University along with letters from well-known attorneys Mike Farrell and Mark Williams. Copenhaver recommended Ketchum try to redeem his reputation by becoming a paralegal and working on long-term projects but he did not order him to do so.
“You have many more good years,” Copenhaver said.
Copenhaver suggested projects for Marshall University or something to help the Huntington area in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said he could live with Copenhaver’s decision not to send Ketchum to prison but still believed he should have spent some time behind bars.
“Public corruption will not be tolerated,” Stuart said.
He said the biggest difference between Ketchum and Loughry is Ketchum took responsibility and showed remorse, Loughry didn’t.
Stuart also said Wednesday he wanted to be able to announce the investigation into Supreme Court spending was over but he said it’s close but not quite there.
“So the investigation continues,” Stuart said.
Ketchum spent 10 years on the Supreme Court after a very successful private practice in Huntington. He doesn’t have a state pension and no longer has a law license.
Ketchum’s full statement to the court:
“Judge, I’m just plain guilty. I’m sorry but sorry is no excuse. I owe an apology to state judges. I’ve embarrassed them and caused havoc. They work hard and are underpaid. I apologize to them. I’m really sorry to my wife and three kids. They don’t deserve what I’ve done to them. I have no excuse,” Ketchum said.