W.Va. Senate wants U.S. Supreme Court to clarify impeachment issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling that halted impeachments in West Virginia last year.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, acting as the lead attorney for state agencies, filed the 49- page petition Monday.

The House of Delegates filed a similar petition in early January.

Both petitions take issue with the October 2018 ruling by an acting West Virginia Supreme Court that stopped the impeachment of state justices. Each describes the lower court ruling as inconsistent with the separation of powers guaranteed to each state within the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate’s petition filed Monday takes no position on the merits of whether a specific justice should be removed from office, but argues that five judges, temporarily appointed as acting justices, inappropriately expanded the state judiciary’s authority in a way that broke down the separation of powers and violated the Legislature’s primary role over impeachment.

“Far from merely policing the boundaries of the impeachment process, the court below decided for itself the merits of some of the
Articles of Impeachment, then declared that the legislature can never use conduct regulated by West Virginia’s Code of Judicial Conduct as grounds for impeachment,” the petition states.

“This decision renders impeachment’s promise of accountability hollow by setting the judiciary up as its own judge, and impermissibly upsets the balance of powers between what should and must be co-equal branches.”

The petition asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review the lower court ruling and support the Legislature’s primary role over impeachment in West Virginia.

“(The U.S. Supreme Court) should intervene to resolve the narrow, but critically important, question whether the acting justices’ decision undermines the republican form of government that the federal Constitution guarantees to every State,” the petition states.

The House of Delegates impeached the entire West Virginia Supreme Court last summer on a variety of matters, including spending on office renovations, the use of state vehicles for private travel, approving pay for some senior status judges above the legal limit and failure to hold each other accountable.

As impeachment trials approached in the state Senate,West Virginia’s court system intervened.

Last October, the acting court halted the impeachment process in West Virginia by concluding that legislators had overstepped their constitutional authority. Acting justices concluded lawmakers had based impeachment on areas the state Constitution set aside as the responsibility of the judicial branch.

That stopped the impeachment trials for justices Margaret Workman, Robin Davis and Allen Loughry. Davis had already retired from the court, and Loughry was later found guilty and sentenced in federal court on 11 fraud counts. Workman continues to serve on the court.

Outside counsel, Mark Carter, filed the petition for the House of Delegates.

Like the Senate, the House of Delegates isn’t necessarily trying to return to impeaching the West Virginia justices.

But it is asking for oversight of the conclusions reached by an acting version of the West Virginia Supreme Court.


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