01 Oct 2018

The Current Status of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

Morgan Griffith, CPL

Attorney, Claire Sergent Walls Legal Group

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest state court in West Virginia. Its offices are located at the State Capital in Charleston. There are five justices, and they are elected officials. Until 2015, the candidates ran on either the democratic, republican or independent tickets. Now elections are non-partisan. The five justices serve 12 years each, and their terms are staggered. For example, Justices Workman and Ketchum were elected in 2008. Justices Davis and Loughry were elected in 2012. And Justice Walker was elected in 2016. The next election will be in 2020.

In 2017, Justice Allen Loughry was elected Chief Justice. One of his first actions as chief justice was to terminate the employment of long-time court administrator, Steve Canterbury. According to the Charleston Gazette newspaper and WCSH-TV, Canterbury, displeased with his termination, talked to news reporter Kenny Bass about the Court’s alleged expenditures. Bass investigated, which led to investigations by other entities (House Judiciary Committee, Judicial Investigation Commission, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office).

Through the investigations and audits, it was learned that Justice Ketchum had, for many years, been using a state car, including the state’s gas card, for non-work-related purposes. Ketchum resigned as justice, effective July 27. He pled guilty to one felony count of wire fraud, and will be sentenced on December 6, 2018.

Through the investigations and audits, it was also learned that Justice Loughry may have been using a state car, including the state’s gas card, for non-work-related purposes. It is also alleged that Loughry unauthorizedly took the court’s furniture to his home, purchased a $32,000 couch for his office, and then lied about it all to federal investigators. In June, the Judicial Investigation Commission recommended Loughry’s immediate suspension, and the United State’s Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia has filed a 25-count indictment against Loughry (mail fraud, wire fraud, witness tampering, and lying to federal investigators). On June 8, Loughry was suspended from the court without pay. His criminal trial is scheduled for October 2. Paul T. Farrell has been appointed as a justice to fill in for Loughry.

The Judicial Investigation Commission found no ethical violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct by Justices Walker, Davis or Workman. However, on August 13, the House of Delegates voted to impeach the four justices (including Loughry). The 14 articles of impeachment alleged mismanagement of the court, lavish spending, and overpayment of senior judges.

Justice Davis announced her retirement on August 14. On August 25, Governor Justice appointed Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins to fill in for Ketchum and Davis until a general election is held in November.

During the 30-day interim period before Armstead and Jenkins could assume their seats on the bench, writs were filed to prohibit them from being appointed as justices. Attorney Wayne King filed a writ, challenging Evan Jenkins appointment. Attorney William Schwartz filed a writ, challenging both Armstead’s and Jenkins’ appointments. Arguments were heard before an all-appointed court on September 24. Sitting Justice Farrell appointed Monongalia County Circuit Judge Russell Clawges, Pleasants County Circuit Judge Timothy Sweeney, Hampshire County Circuit Judge H. Charles Carl, and Mason County Circuit Judge R. Craig Tatterson. (Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker — both facing impeachment trials in the state Senate — recused themselves from the case.) This Court decided that Armstead and Jenkins could be seated as replacement justices until the November elections.

The impeachment trials are slated to begin in October (Walker – October 1; Workman – October 15; Davis – October 29) and run through November (Loughry – November 12).

The Court, which usually resumes its term in September, has pushed its September docket back to at least October.