Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell was sworn in to the West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday, less than 24 hours after Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed him to serve during the suspension of Justice Allen Loughry.
Farrell, who has served seven years on the bench in Cabell County, also will preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate, if articles of impeachment against the court’s four sitting justices proceed to that point.
Farrell took the oath of office a little more than two hours after Justice Beth Walker handed down an opinion saying she disagreed with Farrell being appointed to preside over the possible impeachment trial.
“I believe it is improper to designate any justice as Acting Chief Justice for impeachment proceedings in which I or my colleagues may have an interest and that have not yet commenced in the Senate,” Walker wrote in her response to Workman’s order Friday.
In an answer to Walker’s response, Justice Robin Davis said she supports Workman’s appointment for the impeachment trial, saying the West Virginia Constitution clearly states that the chief justice is to preside over the trial, and if it is improper for the chief justice to preside, then the chief justice has to appoint another Supreme Court justice.
“Any statement to the contrary is intellectually flawed and has no basis under our state constitution,” Davis said in the response she handed down Friday.
With Farrell’s appointment, there now are four justices on the court available to hear cases when the court term begins Sept. 5.
Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Farrell to the bench in Cabell County in 2011, and voters elected him to the position in 2012.
Farrell’s son, Paul Jr., is a partner at the Huntington law firm Green, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel LLP, where former Justice Menis Ketchum’s son, Bert Ketchum, also is a partner, according to the firm’s website.
Loughry has been suspended without pay since June 8. Ketchum resigned from the court effective July 27.
Gov. Jim Justice is responsible for appointing a justice to serve on an interim basis until West Virginians have the opportunity to select Ketchum’s replacement during the Nov. 6 general election.
The state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission is accepting applications for appointment to the court until Aug. 14.
On June 6, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission filed a 32-count statement of charges alleging that Loughry violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.
On June 19, a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia handed up an indictment against Loughry, charging him with 16 counts of fraud and swindles, three counts of making false statements, two counts of fraud by wire, radio or television and one count of witness tampering.
Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty to one count of federal wire fraud related to misuse of state-owned vehicles while he was a justice, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced July 30.
Ketchum’s plea hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Workman, Davis, Walker and Loughry are the subjects of articles of impeachment that were drafted Tuesday by the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee.
The articles accuse the justices of failing to uphold their oaths of office by not establishing and maintaining policies to prevent the abuse of state resources, including money, vehicles, furniture and computers.
The articles serve as formal charges or accusations that the justices committed one of the impeachable offenses listed in Section 9, Article 4 of the West Virginia Constitution.
The articles of impeachment charge the justices with with maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty and certain high crimes.
In total, Loughry is the subject of eight articles of impeachment. Workman and Davis each are the subject of four and Walker is the subject of two.
Ketchum was not a subject of impeachment because he resigned from the bench last month.
Update: This story was updated to correct Justice Robin Davis’ position about the chief justice’s authority to appoint a judge to preside in an impeachment trial.Reach Lacie Pierson at email@example.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.