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West Virginia House Votes To Impeach All 4 State Supreme Court Justices

West Virginia House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington presides over a hearing on articles of impeachment on Monday at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.
John Raby
West Virginia House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington presides over a hearing on articles of impeachment on Monday at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.

Updated at 10:25 a.m. ET Tuesday

West Virginia's House of Delegates voted to impeach all four justices on the state's Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday.

Three of them, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Allen Loughry and Elizabeth Walker, now face impeachment trials in the state Senate.

The fourth, Justice Robin Davis, announced her retirement on Tuesday, just hours after her impeachment. A fifth justice on the court resigned before impeachment proceedings began.

Workman, Loughry, Walker and Davis have all been impeached for failing to carry out their administrative duties. Loughry, Workman and Davis also were impeached for paying retired senior status judges more than the law allowed.

Davis and Loughry were impeached for the use of state money to renovate their offices — but Walker and Workman, who spent less on renovations than their colleagues, were cleared of impeachment charges over the expenses.

Loughry was also impeached for using state vehicles and computers.

All told, 11 articles of impeachment were adopted.

Loughry was the first to be impeached Monday. After two hours of debate, an article of impeachment against him was approved in a matter of seconds, by a final vote of 64-33. The tally easily exceeded the 51 votes needed to go forward with trial proceedings.

Any justices who are impeached in the House are then tried in the Senate, with lawmakers from the upper chamber serving as jurors and deciding whether to remove the justices from office.

The votes came one week after the state House Judiciary Committee approved 14 articles of impeachment against the four justices who currently sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals, accusing the judges of "maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty." They came under fire last year, when it was reported that they had spent more than $3 million to renovate their offices.

Loughry also is facing a federal criminal case, after a grand jury indicted him in June on fraud and a number of other charges, including misuse of a state vehicle and moving an expensive desk from his Capitol office to his home.

The 14 articles are listed inHouse Resolution 202. Article I, targeting Loughry, was the first to come up for a vote Monday, following debate that focused on a lack of an official definition for "maladministration," as well as broader issues of the separation of powers between branches of state government.

Article I calls out Loughry for using state money to buy a nearly $32,000 couch and a decorative floor inlay for almost $34,000 — part of approximately $363,000 he spent to renovate his office.

Davis spent more than $500,000 on renovating her office.

Walker spent $131,000 on office renovations, and Workman spent $111,000; neither was ultimately impeached over their renovations.

As the House discussed impeaching Loughry and the other justices, an amendment was introduced that would have recommended censure rather than removal from office. It was soundly rejected, with only five votes in favor.

The outcome of the impeachment effort could allow West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — a former Democrat who is now a Republican — to appoint the majority of the justices on the state's highest court. The state has a deadline of 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday to trigger a special election for any vacancies on the high court's bench. After that, any open seats would be filled by appointment, with the new justices serving until the next regular election.

By law, West Virginia has five Supreme Court justices, who serve 12-year terms. But Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July, announcing his retirement just before the first impeachment proceedings were to begin. Ketchum's seat will be filled by special election this November.

In 2015, West Virginia's Supreme Court elections became nonpartisan. But all of the current justices have previously run for office on behalf of the two main parties. Loughry won office as a Republican, and Walker ran as a Republican in 2008 before she was elected in a nonpartisan vote in 2016. Workman, Davis and Ketchum were elected as Democrats.

You can follow the impeachment proceedings via a live blog from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The House debate is also being streamed on YouTube.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Dave Mistich
Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
Barbara Campbell