West Virginia is a beautiful state with hard-working people, but at the same time we have had a corruption problem in Government holding us back.

By Del. Gary Howell
West Virginia is a beautiful state with hard-working people, but at the same time we have had a corruption problem in Government holding us back.  
Much of this corruption consists of an outright disregard for the taxpayer’s money - some criminal, as with the case of Justice Ketchum resigning from office and pleading guilty to federal wire fraud.   Justice Loughry is currently under a 25-count federal indictment and we are hearing rumors that charges could be leveled against more.  
Because of corruption and maladministration accusations, the West Virginia House started the impeachment process.
One thing: as you look at this impeachment, know that impeachment is not a criminal or civil trial, but a political trial. Not a political trial in a partisan matter, although partisan politics can and did enter it, but a political trial to remove corruption and incompetence from office.  
The House found with our investigation into the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (SCOAWV) that corruption and maladministration existed among the remaining justices. Because of that investigation, we impeached all four remaining justices on the court.
    As part of the impeachment process, the House acts primarily as investigator, prosecutor and grand jury.  We collected and examined the evidence against those accused.  We believed there was enough evidence for a trial, then we voted to impeach on various articles (counts in a criminal trial).  
The House has completed its work and it is now in the hands of the Senate. The Senate will now act similar to a petit jury (trial jury) and try the case. They may find each justice guilty or not guilty of the charges delivered by the House.
If found guilty, they have two options. The milder option is to censure, basically a public scolding.  The other option is to remove them from office; this is reserved for the most serious cases.
    All officials (elected, appointed or hired) in government should be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Taxpayer money should only be spent on the public good not personal enjoyment. The justices spent a lot of taxpayer money on their offices for personal touches.  All of the justices had an Article of Impeachment that contained “waste state funds with little or no concern for the costs to be borne by the tax payers for unnecessary and lavish spending for various purposes including, but without limitation, to certain examples, such as: to remodel state offices.”  
Now keep in mind the taxpayer-funded offices the justices occupy are about 30 feet by 20 feet.  
Justice Margaret Workman (D) spent approximately $111,000 on her office. This included unnecessary cherry flooring. According to Zillow, a free online real estate site, the median home value in West Virginia is $95,400. She spent more taxpayer money remodeling a 20 ft x 30ft room than a home costs - and she spent the least!  
Sadly, that article of impeachment was withdrawn on a vote of 56 to 39. I voted not to withdraw the Article because I believe spending that kind of taxpayer money to personalize an office is maladministration and shear abuse of the taxpayer. 
    Justice Elizabeth Walker (R) spent around $131,000 in renovations to her office. This included the purchase of approximately $27,000 in items listed as office furnishings and wallpaper.  One thing that makes this so bad is this same office was just remodeled about seven years before.  There is no way the office furnishings were in bad repair.  
This failed on a 44 to 51 vote, with all votes to impeach being Republican members but one. I was one of those votes.
On a personal note, my office in the capitol still has the same furnishings that were there when I moved in. I did supply my own desk chair, which I paid for.  I never even thought of asking for new furnishings when what was there functions fine.
Justice Allen Loughry (R) more than tripled the spending of Justice Walker at $363,000, which included the purchase of a $31,924 couch, a $33,750 floor.  For the same price of the floor you can get a brand-new BMW X1 sDrive28i.
This passed on a 64-33 vote. It should have been unanimous.
Finally, Justice Robin Davis (D) was the most egregious, spending over $500,000 to remodel the office she used in the Capitol. Yes, you read that right, half a million dollars on a room that is about 20 ft by 30 ft.  This included a $20,500 rug and an $8,000 desk chair. The room now has stainless steel walls and several inch-thick glass shelves on the walls.  It looks more like something you would see in a science fiction movie than an office of the highest court in the state.  
This is near vandalism of our historic Capitol, using taxpayer money to do it. It only passed 56 to 41.  
This is some of the wasteful spending.
    Justice Loughry also has been impeached on criminal acts as well.  One was removing a “Cass Gilbert” desk from the Capitol in violation of W.Va. Code §29-1-7 (b).  The desk is valued at $42,000 and was designed by the original designer of our Capitol. The Justice used state money to move the desk, had the desk moved on June 20, West Virginia Day, when the Capitol was closed - presumably to avoid detection of the removal.  
Another Article of Impeachment had Justice Loughry using state vehicles for personal use. This included the state purchasing the gasoline for his personal use. This was actually found during the investigation of the state vehicle fleet started by the House Committee on Government Organization, which I chair, and the primary reason further investigations were launched in the court’s habits.  
A further article accuses him of violating W.Va. Code §6B-2-5 by having start workers install a computer in his home, primarily for personal use. It was found to contain video games likely used by his son. All of these articles passed unanimously.  
     Justices Davis, Workman and Loughry all had articles of impeachment drafted for violating W.Va. Code §51-2-13 and W.Va. Code §51-9-10.  This was when they authorized payments to senior status judges for work done that was above that authorized by state law. What is interesting to me in these articles is that the Federal Internal Revenue Service investigated this, the court pled no contest to breaking the law and then had to use taxpayer money to pay restitution and fines to the IRS because part of the way in which they overpaid the senior status judges violated the Federal Tax code.  
With pretty much an admission of violating federal law by judges, doesn’t get any clearer they cannot continue as judges. Yet, these articles passed largely along party lines, with Republicans voting to impeach and Democrats voting not to.  
Wrong is wrong no matter what party you are in.
    The final article to pass included all four, Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry, Justice Robin Davis, and Justice Elizabeth Walker. It basically stated they didn’t adopt travel policies that would have avoided misuse of vehicles and other state property, they failed to report taxable fringe benefits, such as car use and regular lunches, on Federal W2s, despite full knowledge of the Internal Revenue Service Regulations, and they failed to provide proper supervision, control, and auditing of the use of state purchasing cards leading to multiple violations of state statutes and policies.  
I see this one as they basically failed at having any common sense in running the court in a way that would protect the taxpayer money, or they just didn’t care.  
    I absolutely hated to have to go through this impeachment process, but since being in the Legislature I have looked to root out waste, fraud and abuse.  Since becoming the chairman of the House Committee on Government Organization, I have launched investigations to find waste, fraud and abuse, like the Fleet Investigation which uncovered wrongdoing by the court. I don’t care what political affiliation the wrongdoers are, the days of the Good O’boy system in West Virginia are coming to an end and with the impeachment of the West Virginia Supreme Court it shows the world West Virginia is changing for the better.
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.