The House Judiciary Committee began the impeachment process, starting its Thursday morning meeting with an explanation of the proceedings and calling the first witness
Late last month, the West Virginia Legislature convened its second special session. The West Virginia House of Delegates immediately took up and adopted House Resolution 201, which calls for investigating allegations of impeachable offenses against the Chief Justice and justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Justice Menis Ketchum submitted his letter of retirement/resignation on Wednesday. Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee will not consider evidence against Ketchum because of that resignation. Shott said this could shorten proceedings since the committee won’t need that time that would have been dedicated to those findings.
Before calling the first witness, Shott detailed the background and process of impeachment proceedings. The committee can vote to impeach, not to impeach or censure.
“I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what we are about to undertake. … The ultimately result of what we’re doing today is to overturn a duly elected official where tens of thousands voted for Supreme Court justices for 12-year terms and invested in them substantial trust,” Shott said.
“We have an obligation to also hold accountable those public officials who voters can’t hold accountable because of such a lengthy term,” Shott later said.
Shott cautioned members to not liken the proceeding to that of a grand jury or even to a preliminary hearing but to instead consider it a hybrid.
“In a grand jury, it’s intended to create leverage in favor of the state. … A preliminary hearing is the same with a low standard of probable cause,” he said.
Judiciary Chief Counsel Marsha Kauffman called Justin Robinson, acting director of the Post Audit Division, as the first witness. Robinson testified about the legislative audit reports detailing alleged personal use of state vehicles from justices.
The first audit found Justice Allen Loughry had frequent use of state vehicles without listing a business purpose. The Legislative Auditor also questioned Loughry’s use of state-paid rental cars during out-of-state trips
The second audit found Justice Robin Davis had seven uses of a court vehicle where a destination was provided but no business purpose was listed.
The audit found no issues regarding vehicle reservations by Chief Justice Margaret Workman or Justice Beth Walker.
Delegates also questioned Robinson before breaking for lunch, reconvening at 1:30 p.m.