The Slatest

West Virginia House Votes to Impeach Three State Supreme Court Judges for Spending Millions on Office Renovations

People gather for a ceremony in front of the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia.
The West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

The West Virginia state House took the remarkable step of voting to impeach three of the state Supreme Court’s four sitting justices Monday for a series of scandals, including missing antique desks, million-dollar office renovations, and general misappropriation of state funds, that has the entirety of the state’s highest court under threat of impeachment. After hours of debate Monday, the state’s House of Delegates approved articles of impeachment for Justices Allen Loughry and Robin Davis, as well as Chief Justice Margaret Workman, clearing the 50-vote hurdle required to send each case to the state Senate for trial and possible removal from office, subject to two-thirds of the upper house voting to convict.

The alleged rap sheet on the justices isn’t pretty and the impeachment vote came a week after the Judiciary Committee adopted 14 articles of impeachment against all four of the justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court of Appeals for “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty.” The fifth justice on the bench, Justice Menis Ketchum, resigned abruptly in July days before he was accused of federal wire fraud. The court’s spending habits shot into public view in 2017 when it was found that the justices had spent an astonishing $3.7 million to renovate and decorate their government offices.

Some of the most serious allegations were leveled at Justice Loughry, who was impeached by a 64–33 vote for misusing state funds, including a whopping $363,000 in office renovations. Loughry is named in eight articles of impeachment—and is currently under federal indictment for fraud, witness tampering, and lying to federal investigators—for allegations that he took home a $42,000 antique desk from a capitol building, as well as a $32,000 suede leather couch, and later lied about it. As the Washington Post explained last week, this wasn’t just any desk:

These were state heirlooms named for Cass Gilbert, the prominent American architect who designed the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va., selecting the walnut workstations for the chambers of the state Supreme Court almost a century ago. He would later design the United States Supreme Court. There were supposed to be 10 of them, five for the court’s five justices, elected to 12-year terms, and five for their assistants. But local media, poking around last fall, could only account for seven desks, including the one that had recently gone from the home of the then-chief justice, Allen H. Loughry II, to a nearby court warehouse.

“The other three justices are Margaret Workman, the current chief, as well as Robin Davis and Beth Walker. Each is accused of ‘unnecessary and lavish spending’ on renovation of their offices, travel budgets and ‘regular lunches from restaurants,’ among other expenses, as well as failure to carry out administrative duties and properly develop guidelines for the use of public resources,” the Washington Post reports. “Davis and Workman are also charged with approving the payment of senior judges in excess of the state’s legal limit.”

“In 2015, West Virginia voted to make its Supreme Court elections nonpartisan. But all of the current justices have been affiliated with the two main parties, and at the start of the year, the bench’s unofficial makeup was 3-2 in favor of the Democrats,” according to NPR. “Loughry won office as a Republican; Walker ran as a Republican in 2008 before being elected in a nonpartisan vote in 2016. Both Workman and Davis were elected as Democrats, as was Ketchum.” Both houses of the state Legislature are Republican-controlled. The deadline for a special election to be called to replace the justices is Aug. 14 and some Democrats in the state legislature complained that the GOP-held chamber dragged its feet on impeachment so that Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who switched parties in August 2017, could appoint handpicked justices that would serve until the next election in 2020.