All five members of West Virginia’s Supreme Court are off the bench following a corruption scandal resulting in three impeachments, a resignation and one plea bargain to a felony charge.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman and justices Allan Loughry and Beth Walker still face trial in the West Virginia Senate. Justice Menis Ketchum reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors before the impeachment votes began. Justice Robin Davis resigned following the votes in the House of Delegates.
At issue is illegal payment to senior status judges, including the falsifying of 1099 IRS forms. The judges also spent lavishly to redecorate their offices, which was what initially caught the attention of local WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass, who discovered the renovation expenses in the tax forms.
The tax forms immediately gave the issue import to lawmakers. Judges falsified the forms to provide additional payment to senior status judges. Those are retired judges who fill vacancies. State law allows only senior status judges to earn $126,000 per year, but three of the justices fudged the tax forms to get extra money to the judges.
“Not every justice was charged in this article (of impeachment). Loughry, Workman and Davis were charged this way. That’s because they signed the IRS form to circumvent the law. It was a scheme to circumvent the state law. Once the judges hit that threshold of $126,000, they would convert them to 1099 employees and continue to pay them,” said West Virginia Republican Del. Michael Folk, a leading voice in the impeachment effort, in an interview with WND and Radio America.
“It’s a criminal statute that if you sign a document as a public official, as an officer, in this case the chief justice of the supreme court with the intent to enable or assist to obtain money to which he was not entitled, you’re guilty of a felony,” said Folk.
Folk says the actions are in clear violation of the West Virginia constitution as well.
“In West Virginia, it could be maladministration under our constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors, neglect of duty, and a few others,” he said.
He says it is especially galling conduct since there were plenty of other senior status judges who had not reached their payment limit.
Folk says the reaction of justices to the initial reports of lavish spending were also very troubling.
“In the case of Loughry, he basically blamed other people and said he didn’t know anything about how much his floor cost and pretty much didn’t have anything to do with the design work. Once it was dug into, they had found where he had done detailed drawings of the floor exactly how he wanted it done,” said Folk.
“David reacted nonchalantly saying, ‘Yeah, it’s mine but I’m allowed to spend it,'” he added.
It will take two-thirds majorities in the West Virginia Senate to convict Workman, Loughry or Walker, which may be an uphill climb given the large but not always lopsided impeachment votes in the House.
Since Ketchum and Davis resigned, their seats will be up for election in November. If any of the impeached justices are convicted, Republican Gov. Jim Justice would appoint a replacement, who would then face the voters in 2020.
Folk is not done rooting out corruption and waste of taxpayer dollars. He is appalled that West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee travels by plane from the campus in Morgantown to the state capitol in Charleston when they’re only 140 miles apart.
He’s even more upset about how the trips are funded.
“He’s using student tuition money to fly from Morgantown to Charleston and back and he does that a lot. He wastes about a million dollars a year,” said Folk.
As for the current scandal, Folk says legislators really had no choice.
“We should expect a lot more from our higher court than what we’ve been receiving in recent years,” he said.