CHARLESTON — A special session of the West Virginia Legislature will begin Tuesday to move forward with the possible impeachment of members of the state Supreme Court.
After a conference between Gov. Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, a special session was determined to be the “safest and best way to go.” A resolution will direct the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation to determine if impeachment can be sought.
Of particular concern is Justice Allen H. Loughry II, who was charged last week with a 22-count federal indictment for mail fraud, wire fraud, witness tampering and making false statements to a federal agent.
While serving as chief justice, Loughry came under scrutiny for renovating his office at great cost, including a $32,000 desk, taking home state furniture and equipment and using a state vehicle for personal gain.
Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, House Chair of the Judiciary, noted all state Supreme Court Justices will be reviewed — not just one.
“If you’ve looked at any of the auditor’s reports, Justice Loughry wasn’t the only subject of some criticism in those reports,” Shott said. “Our job will be to look at everyone.”
If the House Judiciary Committee brings forth impeachment articles, the full House must vote on the matter. If passed, the Senate will bring forth an impeachment trial.
“We have to determine what charges fit within the conditions set in the Constitution,” Shott said, which are not the same as criminal charges or charges from the Judicial Investigation Commission.
He said the House Judiciary Committee must determine what evidence is needed to prove any charges. He also noted some lawmakers’ concerns that some evidence may not be available, such as grand jury testimony, until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.
Shott said he’s unsure of the timeline moving forward.
“We want to do it right,” Shott told the media. “It’s only been done once.”
Impeachment proceedings have only been brought forth once before in the state’s history — in 1989 against former State Treasurer A. James Manchin. He resigned before his trial was set to begin.
Earlier Monday, Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, Senate Chair of the Joint Judiciary Committee, made a motion to form two subcommittees — The House would have been charged with determining whether charges should be brought forth, and the Senate would have been charged with studying appropriate rules and procedures in case of an impeachment trial.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, questioned the timeline of the potential subcommittees. He shared concerns that if the subcommittees do not move quickly enough, Gov. Jim Justice would appoint a temporary replacement in the event of a vacancy, rather than West Virginia voters making the call.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said Aug. 14 is the deadline for the creation of a special election for November. Trump would not agree to an amendment to the motion to include a timeline, so the subcommittees could work as they see fit.
The Committee recessed on the matter until 5 p.m. When they returned, Shott said there were concerns about the proposed process.
“It became clear there was not unanimous support for that route,” Shott said. “It’s extremely important to have bipartisan support about how we move forward on this critically important task that’s been assigned to us.”
In a release, Speaker Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he will recuse himself of his role in the impeachment proceedings.
“As the Legislature begins the process of considering possible impeachment proceedings related to members of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, it is important that this process be free from any appearance of bias,” he said. “When I announced I would not seek re-election to the House of Delegates, I also indicated that I am considering the possibility of seeking a statewide office in 2020.”
One of those offices included the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
“I have not decided whether I will seek such a position regardless of whether such position would be up for election in 2020 or would become open at an earlier time. However, the process followed by the Legislature in relation to any impeachment process must be free from even the appearance of any conflict.”
He said he does not believe there is an actual conflict, but he has decided any decisions regarding impeachment should be made by the Speaker Pro Tempore, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley.
“I believe that to be consistent with my personal views that I, and the operations of the House, should always err on the side of caution and high ethical standards, I should follow this course as we address this very serious issue,” Armstead concluded.
Story from The Register-Herald