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Today in the Legislature

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 01:49 PM

Hoyer updates lawmakers on flood recovery efforts

West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer updated lawmakers about the progress of flood recovery efforts and the process going forward.

In Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding, Hoyer told legislators that he feels the program is moving in the right direction.

“I’ve got the sense that individuals impacted by RISE believe that the program is moving in the right direction and have confidence in the program,” Hoyer said. “They may not be happy with the speed that it’s going because of state and federal regulations … but there is a confidence that we are working exponentially to take care of issues the best we can and we are communicating effectively.”

Hoyer said there have been 25 homes –all mobile home units-- signed off as completed. He said 424 cases are still tracked through the system. Of those, 166 are total reconstruction, about 160 are rehabilitation and 98 are mobile home units.

He said those 424 individual family cases were within the original construction piece under four contracts, which were recently increased to nine contracts to meet requirements under state law.

“Those four contracts go to nine contracts primarily because of the way we have to structure to meet the requirements under state purchasing law," Hoyer said. "This is a regional approach which gave us an advantage, we thought, going into the bid process, because someone at the local level may bid.”

Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, asked Hoyer about the timeframe moving forward. Hoyer said there is still work to do.

 

 “I will tell you that we have 18-24 months-worth of work to be close to having the bulk of this closed out,” Hoyer said. “I would hate to say anything less because if we run into environmental issues on the property, that extends it out. Now, we have the appropriate framework in place. We have the right people working it but we still have a long way to go to take care of families.”



Monday, September 17, 2018 - 05:31 PM

Legislators hear update on medical marijuana banking

Legislators heard an update on banking issues with the state’s medical marijuana program and also approved sending a letter requesting a legal opinion from the West Virginia Attorney General on proposed banking solutions.

Diana Stout, general counsel with the West Virginia State Treasurer’s office addressed lawmakers during Monday’s Joint Committee on Health. Stout said the office has run into issues in crafting possible solutions. She said banking institutions relayed their concerns to the office following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo.

Stout said the office mainly deals with BB&T, which told the office it would not be willing to accept medical marijuana funds. She said U.S. Bank has mentioned similar concerns, saying both cited the rescission of the Cole Memo.

Stout said the Treasurer issued a request for information, soliciting responses from 70 different financial institutions, but only received two proposals back. She said neither had much information and wouldn’t provide more information until they were competitively bid.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked her if she felt the reason banks have not reached out is because they want to wait until it’s opened up to bid. Stout said she hoped that was true. She said there are some cases where a bank’s board of directors are not willing to accept money from the program.

Stout said in May, the office sent a letter to the governor outlining two options—one a state bank and another, a closed-loop system. She said North Dakota has experienced economic stimulus from its state bank. However, she said there are certain things the Bank of North Dakota does to generate money that is already handled by other agencies in West Virginia. She said a state bank would be expensive. Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, asked how much it would cost and Stout estimated without capital cost, it would be about $2-3 million to start.

Stout said the office felt the closed-loop system as the best option. To describe this system, Stout used the example of signing up for a Lowes card, which would only be usable within that system, whereas an open-loop system would allow a person to use that card at other home improvement stores. She said there were concerns that an open-loop system would be less manageable.

Stout said the governor asked for a legal opinion from the West Virginia Attorney General regarding banking solutions but she was not aware of a response as of Monday.

Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, made a motion for the committee to urge the Attorney General’s office to provide a legal opinion on banking solutions and separately request the Senate President and House Speaker to request a legal opinion of their own, which would be identical to the governor’s request. His motion was adopted in a 15-7 vote.



Monday, September 17, 2018 - 05:22 PM

Lawmakers question acting lottery director about sports wagering implementation

Lawmakers heard an update about the implementation of the sports wagering bill and also expressed concerns about whether there would be potential changes to emergency rules.

Legislators heard from Acting State Lottery Director Doug Buffington in Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance. Buffington became acting lottery director earlier this month following the resignation of Alan Larrick. Buffington explained the progress of implementing Senate Bill 415, which authorized wagering on certain sports and went into effect in May. 

Buffington said the first casino operator license was issued to Hollywood Casino in Charles Town on Aug. 14. This was followed by Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras on Aug. 20 and The Greenbrier on Aug. 22.

He said Hollywood hosted a soft opening on Aug. 30 and a grand opening on Sept. 1. He said that first weekend generated about $295,000 in tax revenue.

Buffington said The Greenbrier hosted a soft opening Sept. 13 and a grand opening Sept. 14.

For Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras, the soft opening is scheduled for Sept. 27, Buffington said.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, asked about emergency rules enacted and whether the lottery was contemplating changes of those rules.

Buffington said there had been comments from leagues regarding official data, which he said uses results from a source such as Major League Baseball. He said there have also been comments on opting out from certain wagers.

Espinosa asked if the Lottery has had conversations with major sports leagues on proposed changes. Buffington said he didn’t know whether the Lottery Commission or Larrick had those conversations but said he had not personally had those conversations.

“I hope you really will consider the fact that there is virtually no support in the Legislature to require private entities to enter into contractual agreements,” Espinosa said. “I hope the commission will think long and hard before implementing any changes in the emergency rules requiring casinos to enter into those arrangements.”

House Finance Chair Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, asked if the lottery had a timeframe to act on the comments. Buffington said there is no exact date. He said the comment period ended about a week ago. In response to a question from Nelson, Buffington said the emergency rules by the Legislature are in effect and any changes to those would have to go before the Legislature.

Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkely, said he doesn’t want to see any changes to the emergency rules. 

“These tracks and casinos put their resources on the line to put in place sports gambling,” Blair said. “To come in and change the game before we come back and say it’s not the will of the Legislature, is irresponsible. … That’s telling to any industry wanting to come to West Virginia that we’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

The committee also heard from Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch. Crouch updated lawmakers on supplemental appropriations and expenditures to help address the opioid crisis.

Crouch said the drug problem is closely correlated with the child welfare crisis in West Virginia. He said 85 percent of kids in foster care are there because of parents dealing with substance abuse. Crouch said from 2015-2017, there was a 37.6 percent increase in overdose deaths. Over that same period of time, there was a 35.8 percent increase in foster care placement.

“We are tackling the child welfare problem at the same time we are tackling the drug problem,” Crouch told legislators.

Crouch said there has been federal legislation with the Family First Prevention Act, which would allow the DHHR to try to keep children in their homes. The law does not take effect until October 2019.

“This is a huge change in how we are able to deal with the child welfare problem,” Crouch said. “We are looking at those regulations seriously.”

Crouch said the agency is also looking at developing more partnerships with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. He estimated there are 19,000 people who are incarcerated who need treatment. He said the agency also is working with the courts on looking into alternative sentencing guidelines.

“If we get individuals into treatment, ultimately, that’s the goal. That’s what we want to see,” Crouch said.



Sunday, September 16, 2018 - 07:42 PM

Audit examines senior status judges payments, depletion of Supreme Court funds

A recent audit delved deeper into the depletion of the West Virginia Supreme Court’s re-appropriated funds and also looked into payments of senior status judges that auditors say exceeded statutory limits. 

Adam Fridley with the Post Audit Division presented the offices’ findings to legislators at Sunday’s Post Audits Subcommittee. This audit marks the fourth in a series of reports looking into spending within the state’s highest court.

The most recent audit covered three main issues—the depletion of $29 million of re-appropriated funds over a period of four fiscal years, renovations to the court coming totaling $3.4 million, and payments of senior status judges that exceeded statutory limits.

In 2012, the court had a balance of $29 million in surplus re-appropriated funds but over the course of the four fiscal years, the balance was spent down to $333,514. A majority of all re-appropriated funds were spent within two categories-- payroll and unclassified/current expenses. The 2014 fiscal year marked the greatest decrease in the four-year period, where the balance was reduced by $13.4 million. 

Fridley said the court’s renovation costs totaled $3.4 million between 2012 and 2016. Fridley said several of the renovation projects do not contain invoice documentation with sufficient detail for analysis.  The report determined the total combined cost of renovations to justices' chambers totaled $1,943,357 but the office was only able to provide a detailed analysis for about 81 percent of the total. 

Former Justice Brent Benjamin's renovations totaled $264,836 including $25,000 in flooring and $21,000 for window treatments. The largest categories of expenditures for Benjamin’s office were fixtures and infrastructure.

Justice Beth Walker took over Benjamin’s office when she was elected. Renovations totaled $130,655 including an additional $9,000 for flooring placed over the floors installed during Benjamin’s time in the office.

The largest categories of expenditures for Walker’s office was furniture, which was 23 percent.

For former Justice Menis Ketchum, renovations totaled $188,931, including $9,000 on work done to Cass Gilbert desks. Fridley said Ketchum disputed more than $18,000 in the renovation costs. The largest expenditures were for infrastructure at 43 percent.

For Chief Justice Margaret Workman, the total cost of renovations was $112,780 including $12,000 for cabinets, $35,000 for flooring. The largest category for Workman’s renovations was flooring at 32 percent of the total cost.

For suspended Justice Allen Loughry, renovations totaled $367,915 including the purchase of a $32,000 sofa. The largest category for Loughry’s renovations was fixtures at 36 percent.

For former Justice Robin Davis, renovations totaled $503,668. The largest category was fixtures at 38 percent including glass countertops, and infrastructure at 35 percent.

The report also looked into the payment of senior status judges. Fridley said the court allowed 10 judges to exceed the compensation cap. The report found this happened 20 separate times between 2009 and 2017 for a total of $271,000. 

In 1991, statute authorized the court to empanel judges admitted to senior status. These judges serve as temporary replacements when active judges are absent from the bench. In 1991, the court entered an administrative order that held that the compensation, per diem and retirement compensation of retired judges admitted to senior status shall not exceed the salary of a sitting judge. The cap amounted to about $116,000 per year before July 1, 2011 and $126,000 for every year after that.

The report found 34 different judges were appointed from 2011-2017 and 10 senior status judges since 2009 were paid in excess of the cap—six were paid in excess on more than one occasion.

Some, Fridley said, were not greatly in excess, but many were in excess by more than $10,000.

Fridley said judges were converted from employees to independent contractors when they were approaching the cap.

An IRS audit found these judges along with other employees paid as independent contractors don’t meet the requirements of independent contractors. The court was required to pay a settlement of $227,000 for eight notices of adjustment.

Fridley said other senior status judges had unused days of eligibility while other judges were overpaid. The report found that each year, the court’s panel of judges retained 223 to 1,042 cumulative unused days of eligibility.

Barbara Allen, interim administrative director, responded to the audit at Sunday’s meeting.  Allen first addressed the issue of the re-appropriated funds. She said the court wasn’t spending money on frivolous things.

“We spent money on drug courts, employee services, law clerks, computer services—during this group of years, there were two across-the-board raises that took up some of the regular budget. One raise was 2 percent and that went to every member of the court family,” Allen said, noting that all 55 counties including circuit judges, magistrates, and probation officers were part of that raise.

Allen said the court has 25-26 senior status judges but not all of them want appointments.

“We have a number of retired judges who have health issues that prevent them from doing any work at all,” she said. “A number only take appointments in their home counties or contiguous counties. Others will only take appointments at certain times of the year. What you will find when you go through the information is that most judges are willing and able to the extent they can to take short-term appointments. … It’s very difficult to find judges who want long-term appointments, especially in areas that are hard to get to.”

Allen also said some judges went over the cap by a small amount.

Last month, the House adopted articles of impeachment against all state Supreme Court justices. The Senate met last Tuesday and scheduled trials for Walker, Workman, Davis and Loughry.

Ketchum faces a charge under a federal information and Loughry faces several charges under a federal indictment.



Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 04:27 PM

Senate Rejects Deal for Walker and Workman, Sets Trial Dates

This afternoon, the Senate rejected a deal that would have censured state Supreme Court justices Margaret Workman and Beth Walker. Senate Resolution 204 would have prevented their impeachment and allowed them to stay on the court.

Under the proposed deal, Workman and Walker would have admitted that the spending on renovations in their offices at the Capitol was excessive and that they should have been more involved in the process to control the cost. They would have agreed to establish and implement policies to prevent abuse of spending by the court in the future.

Walker and Workman face the fewest articles of impeachment among the four current and former justices who were impeached by the House of Delegates on Aug. 13.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael ruled that the compromise, proposed this morning by House of Delegates Judiciary Chairman John Shott, was out of order and not allowed under the Senate's rules.

A resolution proposed by Senator Charlie Trump, would have spared former Justice Robin Davis of an impeachment trial given that she has already resigned. That motion failed on a 15-19 vote.

The trial schedule is as follows:

Justice Beth Walker: Oct. 1 at 9 a.m.

Justice Margaret Workman: Oct. 15 at 9 a.m.

Former Justice Robin Davis: Oct. 29 at 9 a.m.

Justice Allen Loughry: Nov. 12 at 9 a.m.



Friday, September 07, 2018 - 12:48 PM

Jeffries sworn in to House of Delegates

Surrounded by friends and family, Warren “Dean” Jeffries was sworn in Friday in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber to fill the seat in District 40.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jim Justice appointed Jeffries to the House to fill the seat vacated by Tim Armstead, who resigned last month.  Justice appointed Armstead to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Last week, the House convened, electing Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, as the new speaker for the remainder of the 83rd Legislature.

Jeffries is an insurance agent and lives in Elkview with his wife Stacey and four children, Tyler, Alexis, Brynn, and Landon.

“I’m humbled and honored,” Jeffries said Friday. “I can’t stress this enough. I am truly humbled for this opportunity and I thank the governor for appointing me to this office. I will give my all to serve the Elk River and the state of West Virginia.”



Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 12:34 PM

Delegate Roger Hanshaw selected as Speaker

The West Virginia House of Delegates convened Wednesday morning, electing Clay County Republican Roger Hanshaw as Speaker for the remainder of the 83rd Legislature.

Republican members nominated Hanshaw and Democratic members nominated House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison. The House elected Hanshaw with 62 members voting for him and 34 members voting for Miley.

Former House Speaker Tim Armstead resigned last week. Gov. Jim Justice recently appointed Armstead to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court.

 Hanshaw briefly addressed the House, reflecting on a few reasons why he decided to serve in the House.

 “The answer for me is my family, who I’m pleased to have with me,” Hanshaw said, later adding. “I hope we all remember that we are one of 100 members with the privilege to sit in this House and debate the futures of families like mine—families like yours.”

 Miley also spoke, wishing the best for Hanshaw.

 “I wish the best for you in what remains of the rest of the session,” Miley said. “Even if you remain speaker in the next legislative session, I look forward to working with you in a bipartisan fashion.”

Hanshaw was first elected to the House in 2014. He serves as co-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and chair of the Committee on Flooding.

 The House adjourned Sine Die.



Monday, August 20, 2018 - 02:23 PM

Senate Establishes Rules For Trial Phase of Impeachment

The Senate met for just over an hour on Monday afternoon, adopting Senate Resolution 203, which establishes the rules for the Senate to serve as the jury in the trial phase of the impeachment process against various members of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Following adoption of the resloution, the five House Managers presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The designated House managers that will try the case for the House are listed below. These five delegates were appointed by House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, last week.

  • House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer
  • House Judiciary Vice-Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay
  • Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt
  • Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha
  • Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone                                                                                                                                 

The Senate is adjourned until subsequently called by the President.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - 01:48 AM

House Adopts Articles of Impeachment Against State Supreme Court Justices

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

The House gaveled in at 10 a.m. and introduced House Resolution 202, regarding the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices. Delegates approved a motion to divide the question and debated, amended and voted on the articles separately.

In Monday’s hearings, the House adopted 11 of 14 Articles of Impeachment-- rejecting one and withdrawing two articles. Of the adopted articles, suspended Justice Allen Loughry was named in seven, Justice Robin Davis in four, Chief Justice Margaret Workman in three, and Justice Beth Walker in one— which included articles that individually focused on particular justices and some that combined them.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum resigned and was not part of impeachment proceedings. Ketchum faces a charge under a federal information and Loughry faces several charges in a federal indictment.  

In a 64-33 vote, the House adopted Article 1, regarding Loughry’s $386,000 office renovation. This included the purchase of a $32,000 couch, $1,700 throw pillows, and $33,750 on a new floor including a West Virginia county medallion.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, made an amendment to censure Loughry instead of impeach—a motion he made for similar renovations-related articles for other justices. However, Fast’s amendment was defeated.

House Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said there was evidence presented of a plan to spend down a $29 million reserve that the state Supreme Court had accumulated between 2007 and 2010 because of a concern that the Senate would present a constitutional amendment to take back budget control of the state’s highest court. The Legislature adopted such an amendment during the last legislative session, which will go to voters in the upcoming election.

Shott said he felt the expenditure was “an irresponsible spending of taxpayer money and certainly a betrayal of trust.”

In a 56-41 vote, the House also adopted Article 2, which focused on Davis’ renovations. The article said Davis spent a total of $500,000, which included the purchase of a $20,000 oval rug, an $8,000 desk chair and $23,000 in design services.

Shott said he was shocked by Davis’ office.

“It was shocking,” Shott said. “It was like a Star Trek set.”

Those who opposed this article and similar ones dealing with renovations, expressed concerns that spending doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

“If you go after spending, you’re going to have to start impeaching Board of Public Works members to be consistent,” Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton said, later adding. “Punishment should meet the crime. This spending makes you want to barf but there are other remedies than going down this rabbit hole.”

A few articles against Loughry passed unanimously. One, Article 3, dealt with Loughry taking home a Cass Gilbert desk, valued at around $42,000, which he kept at his home for more than four years.

The House also unanimously adopted Article 8—which said Loughry reserved state vehicles without providing destinations and used a state vehicle and state gas card to drive to book signings at The Greenbrier— and Article 9, which said Loughry used state computers for personal use at home.

In a 94-2 vote, the House also adopted Article 10, which said Loughry made false statements under oath before the House Finance Committee where he denied involvement in his renovations.

Three articles concerned the overpayment of senior status judges. Article 4, against Workman and Davis, said when both served as chief justice, they approved contracts resulting in the overpayment of senior status judges. There was debate on the clarity of the statute. Those who supported the article said state law prevents senior status judges from being paid more than a sitting judge when also taking into account retirement.

However, Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, said the argument was flawed because Davis and Workman did not personally benefit from the action.

“The only person guilty would be the judges if they made false representations to get that,” he said, later adding. “As a prosecutor, I would have to treat this as we’ve said many times, as an indictment. This wouldn’t pass a motion to dismiss in criminal court.”

The House adopted Article 4 in a 62-34 vote.

Three other articles—Article 5-7—also focused on the overpayment of senior status judges but individually focused on Davis, Workman, and Loughry, respectively. The House adopted all three with a 61-35 vote for Article 5, 63-34 vote for Article 6, and 51-45 for Article 7.

The House withdrew Article 11, which said Loughry used state funds to pay for the framing of personal items.

The House rejected Article 12 regarding Walker’s office renovations, which totaled $131,000. Shott asked the chamber to adopt the article, saying Walker’s office was renovated over a seven-year time when former Justice Brent Benjamin was in office. This article was rejected in a 44-51 vote.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, objected to the article, saying Walker’s spending did not compare to others.

“Some of the furniture purchased—you could buy multiple pieces before you could buy the one couch in the earlier article,” Cowles said. “This is a fraction of the spending in the Davis impeachment article, which was $500,000, and it is a fraction, perhaps a third of the spending in the Loughry article of impeachment. I do have an issue if we add in Benjamin’s spending and remodeling over a seven-year period. You can’t hold Justice Walker responsible for remodeling done over seven years ago.”

Following the rejection of Article 12, Shott moved to withdraw Article 13, which focused on Workman’s renovations, which totaled $111,000. Shott’s motion to withdraw was approved.

The House adopted Article 14, against all remaining justices, saying justices failed to adopt travel policies, report taxable fringe benefits including vehicle use and regular lunches on their W-2s, provide supervision of state purchasing cards, provide supervision over record keeping with state vehicles, provide supervision of state property, and failed to provide supervision over purchasing procedures.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, made a motion to remove Walker from the article but the House rejected this motion.

After recessing until 12:15 a.m., the House took up an amendment proposed by Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley. Folk’s amendment proposed a new article against Walker for hiring outside counsel to craft a legal opinion of the court at a cost of $10,000.

During last week’s House Judiciary Committee, members rejected a similar article. Folk’s amendment was rejected in a 26-70 vote.

The House also introduced House Resolution 203, recommending public reprimand and censure of all remaining state Supreme Court justices.  This resolution was adopted in a 95-1 vote.

The House introduced House Resolution 204, which recommended censure of Ketchum and former Justice Brent Benjamin. This was referred to House Judiciary.

The House also introduced House Bill 201, which provided for the special election of state Supreme Court justices when a vacancy has occurred as the result of impeachment. Sponaugle moved to suspend the constitutional rules to take the bill up for immediate consideration. Cowles moved to table that motion, which was approved. This bill was referred to House Judiciary. 



Tuesday, August 07, 2018 - 06:58 PM

Judiciary Adopts 14 Articles of Impeachment Against W.Va. Supreme Court Justices

The House Judiciary Committee adopted 14 articles of impeachment against West Virginia Supreme Court justices and rejected two articles.

The committee convened its eighth day of impeachment hearings Tuesday, where it presented 14 original Articles of Impeachment. The committee later voted to add another two more articles against suspended Justice Allen Loughry.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum was not part of impeachment proceedings because he retired. Ketchum was charged in a federal information. Loughry faces a 23-count indictment. 

Articles of Impeachment now head to the full House, which is scheduled to meet 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 13.

Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday are: 

Article 1: Accusing Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Robin Davis of signing and approving contracts to overpay certain senior status judges. This was adopted 17-7.

Article 2: Accusing Workman, Loughry, Davis, and Justice Beth Walker of lavish spending, including remodeling state offices, large increases in travel budgets. Some of these expenditures include unaccountable personal use of state vehicles, for unneeded computers for home use, regular lunches from restaurants, and framing of personal items. This article also accuses justices of failing to provide supervisory oversight of the court’s operations

Article 3: Accusing Loughry of taking home a Cass Gilbert desk, valued at around $42,000

Article 4: Accusing Loughry of taking home state computers for personal use 

Article 5: Accusing Loughry of personal use of state vehicles, including using the vehicle and state-issued fuel purchase card to travel to The Greenbrier for book signings and sales

Article 6: Accusing Loughry of drafting an administrative order authorizing the court to overpay certain senior status judges. This was adopted 18-6.

Article 7: Accusing Loughry of lavish spending on office renovations, totaling about $363,000, including the purchase of a $32,000 couch and $33,000 floor. This was adopted in a 21-3 vote.

Article 8: Accusing Walker of lavish spending on office renovations totaling about $131,000, including $27,000 in office furnishings and wallpaper. This was adopted 16-8.

Article 10: Accusing Davis of lavish spending on renovation costs totaling about $500,000, including a $20,000 rug, $8,000 chair and $23,000 in design services. This was adopted 19-4.

Article 11: Accusing Davis of signing forms overpaying certain senior status judges. This was adopted in a voice vote.

Article 12: Accusing Workman of lavish spending in renovating her office, totaling about $111,000, and including the purchase of wide-plank cherry floors.

Article 14: Accusing Workman of signing forms to overpay senior status judges. This was adopted in a voice vote.

Article 15: Accusing Justice Loughry of deceiving the House Finance Committee while under oath

Article 16: Accusing Justice Loughry of wasteful spending by using state funds to frame personal items

Two Articles of Impeachment were rejected. These were:

Article 9: Accusing Walker of using state funds to hire outside counsel to author a legal opinion. This was rejected 9-14.

Article 13: Accusing Workman of hiring and retaining employees, contracting services, some of which constituted an apparent repayment of political favors. This was rejected 10-13. 



Monday, August 06, 2018 - 05:42 PM

Judiciary Committee hears from Supreme Court chief financial officer

The House Judiciary Committee reconvened impeachment proceedings Monday, starting the day with a tour of the state Supreme Court chambers and offices.

Following the tour, committee members heard from Sue Racer-Troy, who serves as chief financial officer at the state Supreme Court.

Racer-Troy detailed the structure of the court, saying justices were at the top with the court administrator below them and the division directors below the administrator.

Racer-Troy said there were no written policies regarding expenditures. She said Chief Justice Margaret Workman requested former administrative director Steve Canterbury to develop written policies for P-card usage. Racer-Troy said Canterbury told her not to worry about creating this written policy.

Racer-Troy also testified that she went to Canterbury to discuss former Justice Menis Ketchum’s use of a state car for commuting purposes.  She said she had a parking space near Ketchum and saw a state car parked in his space. She testified when she told Canterbury about this, he told her to stay out of it and that it was none of her business.

Racer-Troy said she has continued to ask for details to get the true cost of renovations of the court. She said she still doesn’t know the full cost of these renovations. Racer-Troy said she got the impression that justices didn’t know how much renovations cost. She mentioned Justice Robin Davis, in particular, saying Davis seemed surprised to learn that a sofa, chairs and other furnishings were bought with state money rather than her own personal funds.

Racer-Troy said the work environment changed dramatically in 2017 after suspended Justice Allen Loughry took over as chief justice. She said there were many firings and restructuring. She said in the administrative department, there were about 20 positions that were either eliminated or consolidated.

“It created a lot of feelings of uncertainty,” Racer-Troy said. “People didn’t know how certain their jobs were.”

In the afternoon, Committee Counsel Brian Casto went over issues with senior status judges. Casto said senior status judges can’t make more than a sitting judge when adding in per diem payments and retirement. However, he said senior status judges were paid in excess of these amounts.

The committee then adjourned into executive session.



Friday, July 27, 2018 - 01:28 PM

Judiciary Committee reviews construction costs, court lunches, court vehicles

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday went over several receipts detailing construction costs, court lunches and justices' usage of court vehicles.

Committee Counsel Marsha Kauffman called Justin Robinson, acting director of the Post Audit Division, as the first and only witness of the day.

Robinson said the Legislative Auditor is in the process of digesting about 1,000 pages of documents and invoices detailing renovation of the state Supreme Court.

Robinson said the notebook the office had before was incomplete. He said on Thursday, he was informed by the court that the info he was previously provided was incomplete. Robinson said interim director of court administration Barbara Allen indicated that the omission of documentation was made at the request of suspended Justice Allen Loughry.

Robinson detailed summaries of some of the invoices. For office renovations, he said Justice Robin Davis’ cost was $500,000, Loughry’s was $363,000, former Justice Brent Benjamin’s was $264,000, Menis Ketchum, who resigned, was $171,000, Justice Beth Walker, who took over Benjamin’s office, was $130,000, and Chief Justice Margaret Workman’s cost was $111,000.

Robinson said Ketchum disputed some of these charges.

The total cost of framing was $114,788 for all justices, Robinson said.

The committee also reviewed the cost of lunches for justices and their staffs. The total amount over a five-year period was $42,314 for working lunches. For unverified court events, the cost was $4,342. These were times where there was no verified court event.

The committee also went over usage of court vehicles, specifically two instances of Loughry. In one instance, Loughry took a state vehicle to Tucker County, saying the purpose was for meeting with magistrates. However, he also appeared in the magistrate courtroom during a case filed by a pest management company against Loughry’s father.

Committee Counsel Brian Casto said the company alleged Loughry’s father refused to pay for termite treatment at his home. Casto noted the case was dismissed.

The committee also looked into logs of Loughry checking out a state vehicle and dates of his book signings. He detailed one instance where Loughry checked out a state vehicle on the day of a book signing at The Greenbrier.

He said checks from the book signings were written directly to Loughry’s wife, who is scheduled to testify at the committee’s next hearing.

Committee Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee is scheduled to take a tour of the state Supreme Court on Aug. 6. The committee is adjourned until further call of the chair.



Friday, July 27, 2018 - 09:25 AM

Recap: Judiciary Committee hears from former Supreme Court administrator

The House Judiciary Committee continued its fifth day of impeachment hearings Thursday, which was consumed by testimony from former West Virginia Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury.

Before taking testimony, Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee issued a subpoena for Loughry’s wife, who asked for a delay to obtain counsel.

Canterbury’s testimony mainly centered on suspended Justice Allen Loughry. He testified about renovations to Loughry’s office, personal items that were framed at the court’s expense, and Loughry’s decision to take home a couch that belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright. Canterbury also testified about the decline of his relationship with Loughry, in particular.

Committee Counsel Marsha Kauffman’s first line of questioning focused on the court’s usage of state cars, which Canterbury said was brought on by publicity on the use of state cars in general. This led Justice Robin Davis to inquire with Canterbury about the court’s usage of state vehicles.

Canterbury said Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned, asked back in 2007 if he could use one of the court’s Buicks to commute. He said Ketchum was the only justice who used the car for commuting.

Davis later sent a memo to Canterbury in 2016 because she wanted more information on how court cars were assigned and used. Canterbury said Davis expressed concerns that the use of vehicles was not appropriate.

Canterbury said in response, Loughry asked about dinners held at Davis’ home when judicial conferences were hosted in Charleston, as well as a cocktail party held in Wyoming during a chief justice annual meeting.

He said Loughry contended Davis’ concerns about his vehicle usage was a distraction from these dinners.

Canterbury said there had been only one instance where food was partially funded by the court and one where bus transportation was funded by the court.

Canterbury said justices later voted 3-2, with Davis and former Justice Brent Benjamin as the two voting against, voted that justices did not need to be asked why they were taking the vehicles.

“The presumption was if they were taking a car, it must be for appropriate use,” Canterbury said.

Canterbury recalled a conversation with Loughry about moving a couch to his house. Previous testimony indicated that Loughry took home a couch that belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright, along with other furnishings including computers and a Cass Gilbert desk.

“He told me he thought he would take that couch home for his home office,” Canterbury said. “My reaction, frankly, was ‘what?’ But I said OK. I wanted to try to serve those guys. I asked to arrange for moving and he said he would take care of it.”

Canterbury also testified about renovations to justices’ offices. Kauffman asked Canterbury about Loughry’s contention that he had little input into these renovations. Canterbury said this was not true and that Loughry had daily involvement with renovations and wrote emails around the clock detailing his specifications.

“He was very involved,” Canterbury said. “He was more involved than any other justice, by a longshot.”

Canterbury also said Loughry sketched a floor plan of how he wanted his office to look, including a floor medallion depicting a county map of West Virginia. Canterbury said Loughry also specified that Tucker County, which is where Loughry is from, to be “blue pearl granite.”

Canterbury said he had a brief conversation with Loughry about the cost of the couch in his office. He said he brought up to Loughry that the price tag was $32,000.

“I happened to catch him in the hall and said this couch is $32,000. Want me to go through with this? His answer in hindsight seems to be prophetic,” Canterbury said. “He said, yes, and if it ever becomes public, I’ll blame it on you. You’re the administrator. And he chuckled.”

Canterbury said other than that conversation, he had nothing to do with the couch. Canterbury said Loughry, Loughry’s wife, and Loughry’s secretary went to Carpet Gallery and picked out a blue suede fabric, which was the reason for the couch’s hefty price tag.

Canterbury also said Loughry had several items framed –including a page of uncut $2 bills, newspaper articles, a poster of his book, a swearing in photo along with his first written opinion and syllabus page. Canterbury said two items he never saw in Loughry’s office. These were a watercolor picture of Loughry’s name, which was painted after his wedding, and an etching of the building Loughry and his wife were married.

Canterbury estimated the cost of framing to be in the $10,000-$12,000 range.  

In addition to the furnishings, Canterbury said Loughry also had other requests for his office including a standing desk and a taller toilet.

Canterbury also detailed renovations done to other justices’ offices. He said the majority of Davis’ renovations were structural in nature, saying workers even found paper-covered wiring in the walls. He estimated three-fourths of the cost of renovations to her office were structural in nature. However, he said there were a few expensive items including an expensive chair and rugs. He said Chief Justice Margaret Workman also had an expensive floor in the foyer of her office.

Canterbury also testified on his relationship with Loughry. He said he felt the beginning could have been an instance where Loughry was a clerk at the court. He said an employee came to him, saying Loughry made sexually harassing comments to her. Canterbury said he went to former Justice Spike Maynard and told him about Loughry’s conduct. After that, he said the comments stopped.  

Canterbury said his relationship with Loughry went downhill shortly after Loughry was elected. Canterbury said Loughry told him he knew Canterbury advised a former justice to fire him when he worked for the court as a law clerk. Canterbury said this conversation between him and the former justice never happened.

Canterbury said in 2014, Loughry told him he wanted Canterbury to submit his resignation because he felt Canterbury had disrespected him with a comment referencing his age. Canterbury said he didn’t remember saying this either. From that point, Canterbury said Loughry didn’t speak to him and would reference him in third person even when he was in the room.

Canterbury testified about his firing, saying he worked for the court for 11.5 years before Loughry fired him.  

 “I said every cloud has a silver lining. I said, at least I won’t have to work for a simulacrum in chief like you,” Canterbury said referring to Loughry, who had taken the position of chief justice days before.

Canterbury later defined the word he used to call Loughry, saying it means an “elaborate fraud.”

“I think he’s dishonest. I don’t think he has the temperament to be a justice. I don’t think he has the temperament to be in charge of hiring people. I found his entire tone to be off-putting,” Canterbury said in response to a question from Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, on why Canterbury called Loughry a “simulacrum.”

For today’s schedule, the committee will review information on construction cost. Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee likely will not meet next week but will meet the following week.



Friday, July 20, 2018 - 02:13 PM

House Judiciary postpones tour of W.Va. Supreme Court

The House Judiciary Committee voted Friday to postpone its scheduled tour of the West Virginia Supreme Court and will ask the court for a tour as a committee accompanied by three members of the media.

Friday marked the fourth day of testimony. Committee Attorney Marsha Kauffman began by reading an affidavit as testimony from Kim Ellis, director of administrative services of the West Virginia Supreme Court. The affidavit was testimony taken from the Judicial Investigation Commission.

Ellis’ testimony from the affidavit said suspended Justice Allen Loughry personally selected the fabric and down in the decorative custom pillows and sketched a map detailing placement of furnishings in his office.

Ellis’ testimony continued, saying the day after former Court Administrator Steve Canterbury was fired, Loughry called Ellis on her personal cell phone. Her testimony said Loughry told her of Canterbury’s firing and said it was his understanding she was a “spy or loyal to Steve Canterbury” but said she had nothing to worry about with her job. Loughry asked her to keep the conversation “off the record,” Kauffman read. The affidavit continued saying Ellis worried about her job. 

The testimony continued recalling a meeting with Ellis, Loughry, and former Court Administrator Gary Johnson where Ellis was questioned about the costs associated with renovations. Ellis’ testimony said Loughry asked her if she recalled a meeting with him where he asked her to write down costs of renovations for former Justice Menis Ketchum and Chief Justice Margaret Workman. Ellis said she felt Loughry was trying to intimidate her or coercer her to lie,

The committee also played the entire recording of Loughry’s budget presentation before the House Finance Committee during session. Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said the Judicial Investigation Committee took Loughry’s entire testimony into account for its charges. In a previous impeachment hearing, the committee had just played the statement quoted in the commission’s complaint. 

The committee granted a motion from Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, to postpone the committee’s scheduled tour of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Fluharty cited First Amendment concerns because members of the media were not allowed on this tour.

The committee granted a second motion from Fluharty to request the court for a tour as a committee accompanied by three members of the media.

Shott said because of the change in nature of the tour, the court informed the committee that it needed to gather the court to discuss. He said the tour would not take place on Friday.

For next week, Shott also said the committee plans to issue a subpoena of Loughry’s wife, inquire into an alleged missing computer, inquire of additional information on renovation expenses, inquire from the state Auditor’s office on the court’s hiring of a consultant, and look into book signings conducted using state vehicles to travel. Shott also said Canterbury is expected to testify next week, saying this could consume a full day or more. 

Shott said this schedule depends on the availability of witnesses.

The House Judiciary Committee is in recess until 9 a.m. Thursday, July 26.



Thursday, July 19, 2018 - 12:58 PM

Updated: Committee hears testimony from W.Va. Supreme Court employees

The House Judiciary Committee reconvened Thursday to resume testimony in impeachment proceedings of one or more state Supreme Court justices.

Committee Counsel John Hardison called Jess Gundy, West Virginia Supreme Court deputy director of security, as the first witness. Most of Thursday morning’s testimony focused on the move of a couch and Cass Gilbert desk, which was valued at about $42,000, from Justice Allen Loughry’s home to a court warehouse.

Gundy recalled a meeting with Justice Allen Loughry, former Court Administrator Gary Johnson, and a state Supreme Court attorney, where Loughry asked Gundy to help move the desk and couch from his house.

“He made sure to tell me that he was not asking me to do anything improper because it was permissible to have a home office but he wanted to get it out of the house because of a newspaper article the day or two before that said he had this at his residence,” Gundy said. 

Gundy said he, Paul Mendez and Arthur Angus got in a court van and followed Loughry to his residence. When they arrived at Loughry’s house, Loughry showed them the desk in a smaller room and the couch, Gundy said.

“The desk was crammed into the room,” Gundy said in describing the desk and the layout of the house. “It was a big desk in a small room. “

Gundy said they proceeded to unload the couch into the van. Loughry then said one of his neighbors was taking a photo of the move, Gundy said.

He and Angus got in the court van while Loughry and Mendez got in Loughry’s car to drop the couch at the warehouse.

Gundy said they did not move the desk because he said Loughry was waiting for his neighbor to leave. Gundy recalled Loughry getting a call from his wife saying the neighbor left and they went back to Loughry’s home to retrieve the desk and unload it at the court’s warehouse.

Gundy said the move took place during regular work hours and said it was paid for by the court.

Hardison asked if moving furniture into a justice’s home was part of his job description, which Gundy replied, “It was an unusual request.” However, Gundy said he didn’t think anything of the request because Loughry told him it was permissible for justices to have a home office.

Gundy also testified about justices’ usage of state vehicles. A legislative audit report from the Legislative Auditor’s office found Loughry had frequent use of state vehicles without listing a business purpose.

Gundy said Loughry had keys to all three court vehicles. He said he couldn’t recall Loughry ever telling him where he was going in these vehicles.

 “He said other justices in the chamber did not need to know where he was going,” Gundy said.

Gundy said during holidays, Loughry would take the state vehicles home and bring it back following a long weekend.

“There were a couple of occasions he had it for a very long time,” Gundy said, noting he couldn’t recall specific days.

Gundy said Loughry turned in the keys following publicity about use of state vehicles.

***

After breaking for lunch, the committee called three more witnesses before recessing for the day—Jennifer Bundy, public information officer at the state Supreme Court; Paul Mendez, court security messenger; and Arthur Angus, director of court security.

Committee Counsel Marsha Kauffman asked Bundy about an email she sent last year—a response from Loughry about the furniture. Bundy said Loughry told her there was a home office policy.

However, Bundy said she later found out after sending out the statement that no such policy exists.

 

Bundy said after Loughry took over as chief justice in 2017, Canterbury was fired the next day. She said she considered Canterbury a good friend.

Bundy also testified that she was later kept out of the loop with media responses and she did not know of an interview with Loughry and Davis until she saw it on TV.

She said she became concerned about her job and approached Johnson and Loughry about her concerns.

“I asked them if I would lose my job and why aren’t they involving me in the conversation,” Bundy said. “Justice Loughry said I would not lose my job. Judge Johnson said the reason they were not involving me is because I am friends with Canterbury and they didn’t want to put me in a difficult position.”

Committee Counsel Brian Casto called Mendez as the third witness.

Mendez recalled moving the couch to Loughry’s home. Mendez said this was the only couch in Loughry’s living room. He said the couch was so large that he, Gundy and Angus had to take the doors off the frames to move it out of the house.

As Gundy testified earlier in the day, Mendez also said after Loughry received a call from his wife saying the neighbor who had taken pictures of the move of the couch, had left, they then went back to the house to get the desk out of Loughry’s house.

Angus also recalled Loughry asking him to help move the couch.  Angus said the couch was in Justice Joseph Albright’s office. Justice Thomas McHugh later inherited the office and Loughry inherited McHugh’s office.

Angus also testified of the location of all five Cass Gilbert desks. Previous testimony indicated that one was missing. However, Angus said all were in various offices at the state Supreme Court.

As Gundy earlier testified, Angus also said Loughry never told him where he took court vehicles and he had keys to all of the court’s Buicks. Angus said Loughry got the keys following Canterbury’s firing.

Angus said Loughry had a practice of taking vehicles after court had adjourned sine die.

“There were several occasions where he would get it near a weekend and it would come back on a Monday or Tuesday,” Angus said.

Although most of Thursday’s testimony focused on Loughry, Angus also testified on a trip where he accompanied Davis.

Angus said he drove her to Wheeling for court business. He said they went to a newspaper for an interview about an anti-truancy program and then to the courthouse for a court function.

He said he then drove her to the Wheeling airport where Davis departed on a private plane to Parkersburg. He said he drove her to the hotel and she later left to go to a political function. However, Angus said he did not accompany her to the political function.

The House Judiciary Committee will reconvene 9:15 a.m. Friday. The committee is scheduled to take a tour of the West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday.  



Friday, July 13, 2018 - 01:58 PM

House Judiciary calls former W.Va. Supreme Court employees as witnesses

The House Judiciary Committee continued taking witness testimony in the second day of impeachment proceedings.

Friday morning, Committee Chief Counsel Marsha Kauffman called Scott Harvey, former West Virginia Supreme Court database administrator and former director of technology.

Harvey testified that he and other employees made multiple visits to Justice Allen Loughry’s home to extend internet access between Loughry’s house and the state Supreme Court and to set up two desktop computers—one in the kitchen/family area and one in a room Loughry referred to as an office area.  

Harvey testified one of these desktops served a “shared” computer in which Loughry’s family had access. Harvey said he personally questioned the need for the computer in the family room and allowing family members to use a state computer.

On a fourth visit to Loughry’s house, Harvey said they had to deal with a virus on the family room computer.

“It came to me through the IT chain that there were a lot of games installed on the computer,” Harvey said.

Harvey said other justices had computers in their homes but he had never done a site survey with the other justices to the extent or degree he did with Loughry.

Harvey also testified about a consulting firm hired to program a statewide magistrate court system, which took the entire magistrate court system from paper to electronic.

He said he did not believe was necessary because the court could have done the work with their own employees. Harvey said this was an opportunity for the court to bring in revenue but there was a lack of knowledge about how the payment process should be handled within the state.

He said the court came up with its own way of how they would do it but the state treasurer disagreed with that method.

Harvey said it involved the fee payment processing on the state Supreme Court server instead of the treasurer’s server, which is why the treasurer objected. He said after this document was re-worked that said the treasurer would process the payments, the treasurer signed off on the document.

He said Justice Menis Ketchum threatened him twice, saying if he didn’t get the treasurer to sign off on the document, he would be fired.

Ketchum submitted his letter of retirement/resignation Wednesday so the committee will not consider evidence against him.

The committee later called Paul Fletcher Adkins, assistant to the administrative director of courts, as a witness. Adkins worked at the state Supreme Court for 35 years.

Adkins said he approved the bill for Young’s Moving Service. He said the moving company transported office furniture on West Virginia Day from Loughry’s office into a warehouse during renovations at the court. 

Adkins met the people from Young’s Moving Service at the warehouse to let them in and then locked up the warehouse when he left.

However, before the moving company went to the warehouse, Adkins said the moving company stopped at Loughry’s house and then went to the Capitol to pick up furniture to transport to the warehouse.

When asked what specific items were unloaded into the warehouse, Adkins said nothing stood out to him. He said there was a single item delivered to Dudley Drive, under Loughry’s supervision. However, he did not know what that was.

“If something was delivered to Dudley Drive and under the supervision of a justice, there was nothing I would have to say about it,” he said.

Adkins confirmed Loughry used a Cass Gilbert desk when he served as a law clerk with the court but said he was unsure if he had it in his chamber.

Before recessing, the committee played an audio clip from Loughry’s testimony before the House Finance Committee during session and then a WCHS interview with Loughry.

In the interview, Loughry called the expenses “outrageous and shameful.” He said he had “very little input” into the renovations and furnishings of his office. Loughry said former court administrative director Steve Canterbury was in charge of the expenditures.

The Judiciary Committee will resume work on impeachment proceedings 9 a.m. Thursday, July 19.



Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 08:11 PM

House Judiciary Committee continues impeachment hearing

House Judiciary Committee members continued taking testimony into the evening Thursday as part of impeachment proceedings.

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.

The meeting, which began Thursday morning, focused on testimony related to three legislative audit reports on the state’s highest court.

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.

Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, made a motion to amend the rules of Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer. Shott denied the amendment and Robinson challenged the ruling. However, that motion failed because Shott said there needed to be 10 members of the committee to join Robinson in that motion.

Many of the questions Thursday afternoon centered on out-of-state trips for conferences and the amount of miles from Justice Allen Loughry’s trips that Justin Robinson said exceeded the amount of miles from the hotel to the conference.

Committee Counsel called Legislative Auditor and Legislative Manager Aaron Allred as the second witness.

Many of the questions centered on a Cass Gilbert desk, valued at about $42,000, that the legislative audit report said was moved to Loughry’s house. Allred said the report found in June 2013, a moving company transported furniture to Loughry’s home. However, he could not say for sure what specifically was moved at that time.

Allred said it is his understanding Loughry later had court employees come to his house, while they were on the clock, to move the desk to a court warehouse.

 Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, said, “it scares me that a law clerk was using a $42,000 desk,” referencing that Loughry used the desk during his time as a law clerk.

After a 45-minute break, the Judiciary Committee reconvened and called Justin Robinson back as a witness to testify about the third legislative audit report. This report questioned the spend down of the West Virginia Supreme Court’s excess fund balance, which went from $29 million to $333,514 in four years.

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 because of this, he anticipates the agenda to be shortened by about a day. The committee recessed until 9 a.m. Friday.



Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 02:35 PM

House Judiciary begins impeachment process, calls witness

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. 



Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 04:14 PM

House Judiciary Committee begins impeachment process

The House Judiciary Committee met shortly following the House of Delegate’s adjournment Tuesday to start the impeachment process.

 

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Legislature convened its second special session. The House immediately took up and adopted House Resolution 201, investigating allegations of impeachable offenses against the Chief Justice and justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

 

The House Judiciary Committee is tasked with determining evidence to see if impeachable offenses have occurred.

 

Members heard from committee attorney Brian Casto, who presented a history of the impeachment process and detailed how the process works.

 

Legislators also heard from Marc Harman, who served in the House of Delegates during the 1989 impeachment of A. James Manchin. Harman shared his experience through that process.

 

“What you are about to undertake will not be pleasant but I hope you will rise to the occasion,” Harman told legislators. “What has happened has happened. I think you can define us as a state by how you handle it.”

 

Committee Chair Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee will issue a subpoena to the Judicial Investigation Commission. Committee members are also scheduled to meet with the Legislative Auditor’s office.

 

Shott said the committee will meet as early as July 9 but no later than July 16.

 



Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 04:12 PM

Joint Committee on Flooding

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer addressed the Joint Committee on Flooding Tuesday to give updates on efforts moving forward. Hoyer said he is moving with deliberate speed to address issues.

 

Hoyer said there were 1,200 initial applications, 451 cases that met HUD requirements, and as of Tuesday, 350 have been reviewed.

 

He said 22 structures are on site, some of which families have the keys to and some of them, people are in the process of signing off on finalizing the construction management process.

 

He said by next week, he hopes to draft a document to purchase for the Slum and Blight Removal Program, which involves demolishing structures either flooded or in a flood affected area.

 

“We are trying to focus on pushing that quickly,” he said. “If we remove structures, it helps us to bring property values up in the community as well as moving forward. It’s an important aspect of what we’re doing.”

 

He said currently, there is $2 million from HUD for the bridge program. However, he said the state needs $3.5 million to complete all the bridges in the system.

 

“Once we get on focus, we can go to HUD to put more money into the bridge program so we can clear out all 133 bridges,” Hoyer said.

 

Two people from the West Virginia Development Office – Mary Jo Thompson and Russell Tarry – were scheduled to speak to the committee.

 

However, a representative from the West Virginia Department of Commerce said they had previously resigned, hours after confirming they would attend Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions related to the RISE program.  

 

Adam Fridley, audit manager with the Legislative Auditor’s office, also addressed legislators Tuesday. Fridley presented an audit examining the Rise program. The audit found the state Development Office likely entered into six illegal contracts with Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based accounting and advisory firm, at a cost of about $18 million.

 

The audit also found the Development Office entered into seven construction contracts, totaling more than $71 million, for home rehabilitation, reconstruction, and replacement services under RISE, which the audit said violated state and federal law.




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