The West Virginia Legislature has completed is regularly scheduled June interim meetings, but this year the Governor called us into session for a special session to look at the possibility of impeaching one or more of the five Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

By Del. Gary Howell
The West Virginia Legislature has completed is regularly scheduled June interim meetings, but this year the Governor called us into session for a special session to look at the possibility of impeaching one or more of the five Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Currently the Supreme Court has been reconstituted with four circuit judges and a retired circuit judge. None of the elected judges are serving while the investigation is undertaken to provide for an untainted Supreme Court.
    Impeachment proceedings are a very serious undertaking, but many are not taking it seriously. The impeachment process has only been undertaken three times in the state’s 155-year history and only completed once.
On Tuesday the House voted unanimously to begin the process of impeachment on potentially all five of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices.  The process will work like this. The House Judiciary Committee will act as investigators and the prosecutor for the House. They are currently collecting evidence of wrongdoing.  While we have some evidence, we do not have access to the evidence that the US Prosecutors used to indict Chief Justice Allen Loughry on 22 counts, nor do we have access to the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commissions (JIC) evidence that brought on a 32-count JIC complaint, which resulted in his suspension without pay.  
We do not have access to evidence on any of the other four Justices, so the House Judiciary Committee staff is currently undertaking that investigation.  
As the Judiciary Committee meets, they will call forth witnesses, but we expect many of those witnesses may exercise their rights under the 5th Amendment, because they may be part of the criminal trial(s) that will take place.
    Once the House Judiciary Committee completes its investigation of the five justices, they will be able to return their recommendations to the full House. They may recommend impeaching, they may recommend to censure or they may recommend no charges be leveled.   If impeachment is the recommendation, then the House will act in the capacity of a Grand Jury. The House Judiciary will present their findings to the full House and a vote will be taken.  
If the vote is to impeach, then the justice(s) will have the legislative equivalent of an indictment.  The WV Senate will act as the petit jury (trial jury).  Prior to the trial taking place, the parties impeached will have an opportunity to prepare their defense. If the trial finds the justice(s) guilty, then they will be removed from office.  A replacement will be appointed until a new justice(s) can be elected in a special election.
    While most of us see this as an extremely serious matter, because we are considering overturning the election by the people of these Justices, many are not. An amendment to the Impeachment Investigation Resolution was offered by the minority party to limit the time that could be spent on the investigation and impeachment process. The saying is the “wheels of justice turn slowly,” and the reason they turn slowly is because we have a duty to get it right.  
Years ago, before I was ever in the legislature, I served on a Grand Jury here in Mineral County.  In fact, Judge Phil Jordan appointed me as the jury foreman.  While the deliberations in the Grand Jury are secret, I can tell you there were no artificial time limits set and because we were dealing with the future lives of individuals, we took our deliberations seriously.   
    I am privy to some of the evidence against the justices as the House Committee on Government Organization, which I chair, began the investigation into the state vehicle fleet.  That investigation subsequently led to further investigations of the court which led us to where we are today.  
I have not made any judgements, I want to see what other evidence is available before making my final decision on each justice.  The minority party stated they wanted the time limits to force a special election this November, I assume because they feel they may have an advantage in this year’s judicial elections.  Politics should not be part of this, only justice should be part of this.  We owe it to the people to get this right.  
In advocating for the time limits on the impeachment process, Delegate Shawn Fluharty suggested that the media had done the investigative work for us.  When he stated that I immediately thought of the case of Richard Jewel. Jewel discovered a planted pipe bomb at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and helped evacuate people from the area before the bomb exploded. He was later falsely accused by the media of planting the bomb himself. He underwent trail by media, and later Jewell was completely exonerated, but not before his life was destroyed.
Jewel was a hero for saving many lives.  
Eric Rudolph was later found to have been the Centennial Bomber.  Now is not the time to play politics, but to act as Grand Jury and only look at the evidence, so that justice is served.
    On Monday, June 26, the Joint Committee on Government Organization met. The joint committees are made up of both House and Senate members. I serve as the House chair of the committee with Senator Ed Gaunch serving as the Senate chair. We heard a presentation of a Special Letter Report regarding regulatory board reporting requirements and a discussion regarding submitting and retrieving information from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).  
Primarily what we are looking at is if a licensee in the medical field comes to work impaired, who has a duty to report that to protect the public safety, and how that data is stored in the NPDB.  That was a lead in to hearing a presentation by the WV Board of Medicine regarding the board’s complaint and discipline processes.  
Currently a high-profile case of a doctor sexually assaulting his patients is working through the courts in West Virginia.  While the suspension of his license would result in information being put into the NPDB, a voluntary inactivation of his license would not.  His license in WV is inactive, not suspended.  The question we are looking is the public safety being served.  This doctor currently has an inactive license in Alabama, could he reactivate it putting the public in Alabama at risk of sexual assault because of West Virginia allowing him to go inactive? A regulatory board’s purpose is solely to protect the public safety.  We want to make sure we are doing that.
As we continue our investigation into the state vehicle fleet and its usage we heard a special report on state vehicle utilization. In the report we found that the 1,100 monthly minimum miles is an efficient utilization standard for state vehicles, as long as commuting mileage, when applicable, is excluded from the rate. State vehicles driven 900 miles or less per month cost $0.96 per mile compared to $0.56 per mile for vehicles driven between 1,100 and 1,300 miles per month.  The state reimbursement rate for using your own vehicles is currently the federal rate of $0.54 per mile. Only 63 percent of the state-owned vehicles reviewed either meet or exceed the monthly minimum utilization rate.  This is causing a lot of unnecessary expense to the taxpayer.
The report found 603 vehicles with no utilization information available owned by 18 state agencies that were not reporting utilization information to the Fleet Management Division.  This should be corrected this year as the fleet bill that passed last session takes effect. Further, if a state agency cannot meet the minimum utilization requirement, then it should consider alternatives for its employees’ travel, such as: pool vehicles; rentals; and reimbursing employees for use of a personal vehicle.  
Another issue we discovered is while the state agencies are allocating four-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles to areas of the state that receive significant snowfall, however, several FWD vehicles are questionably assigned to administrative and/or executive offices in Charleston. The report noted, allocation of FWD vehicles to high-snowfall counties can be improved. DHHR has not allocated any four-wheel drive vehicles in the following three counties that receive significant snowfall: Braxton; Gilmer; and Grant.  The report found that 181 of the 436 four-wheel drive vehicles (42 percent) in Kanawha County are assigned to administrative or executive offices of the agencies reviewed.  
The committee will consider changing the code, so that West Virginia state agencies will consider the job responsibilities of employees or units that vehicles will be assigned to when purchasing vehicles and limit unnecessary features that increase the purchase price such as four-wheel drive.
I also serve on the Joint Committee on Government Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency (GATE).  We heard a report on Tuesday, June 27, by State Auditor J.B. McCuskey on his investigation of the Department of Health and Human Services leasing office space in the Middletown Mall in the Fairmont area.  The agency cancelled the lease three years ago, however the state treasurer’s office continued to send checks to the tune of $32,000 a month.  The state paid nearly $1 million for office space they cancelled the lease on.  Nobody caught it, until State Auditor J.B. McCusky began to update the procedures on issuing checks.  
For two years my committee, Government Organization, has requested to look into the state’s Real Estate Division as we did the state vehicle fleet.  Like the state vehicle issue, we expect that there will be millions upon millions of savings when we begin to look at what real estate the state has purchased and is leasing.
As always, I work for you, so if you have any questions, help with a state agency or just and idea that you think would make the state better please let me know.  My contact is Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov and my phone is (304) 340-3192.