State political and organizational leaders on Wednesday called for West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry to resign from office after a federal grand jury handed up a 22-count indictment against him Tuesday.
Loughry is charged with making false statements, wire fraud, fraud and swindles, and witness tampering in regard to what a federal prosecutor said was his misuse of state resources including vehicles, credit cards, furniture and other resources, which were followed by attempts to lie to federal investigators about his knowledge and use of those resources and his use of them.
Loughry has been suspended without pay from the bench since June 8, two days after the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission handed down a statement of charges alleging he violated the West Virginia Judicial Code of Conduct.
Gov. Jim Justice called on Loughry to resign while talking with reporters at a West Virginia Day celebration in Charleston.
Justice said in a statement Wednesday night that Loughry’s indictment “saddens me.”
“This casts another shadow of negativity on West Virginia, which is certainly something we just plain don’t need,” Justice said. “Justice Loughry should immediately resign from office and spare our state any further embarrassment.”
At the same time the celebration was happening, state lawmakers were either calling on Loughry to resign or trying to rally fellow legislators to initiate an impeachment against him.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, both called on Loughry to resign. Carmichael said the indictment is “troubling,” but he also maintained that Loughry is innocent until proven guilty.
“There is an established system in place to adjudicate and fairly resolve this matter,” Carmichael said. “Nevertheless, the confidence and workmanship in the judicial branch of government must be held to the highest standards of propriety and respect. Therefore, Justice Loughry should immediately resign his position as Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The opportunity to defend himself against these serious allegations should not be conducted from his current role as Justice.”
Armstead did not seek re-election to his seat in the House this year. He previously said he’s interested in seeking election to the Supreme Court in 2020.
Armstead said he was “saddened and disappointed” to read about the allegations against Loughry.
“While he has been suspended from sitting on the court and is not receiving pay, I would reiterate my belief that it is in our state’s best interest for Justice Loughry to resign so we can begin the long process of restoring our citizens’ trust in their judicial system,” Armstead said. “Regardless of what course Justice Loughry may choose to take, the Legislature will continue its work to get to the bottom of what has occurred, to evaluate the evidence and assess how best to proceed to ensure that our judges and all public officials are held to the highest legal and ethical standards.”
Democrat minority leaders from the Senate and House sent out a joint news release Wednesday afternoon calling for legislative action to impeach Loughry if he refuses to resign. It was the second time this month Democrat leaders called for resignation or impeachment.
House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the federal indictment was not surprising.
“There are some things included in the indictment, as well as in the Judicial Investigation Commission report, that are not in dispute, like the fact that Justice Loughry took state furniture home and used a state car for personal trips,” Miley said. “Any other state employee would have been charged with larceny. Impeachment proceedings are designed to remove an elected official from public office if he/she has engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of the office.”
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the Supreme Court drama has gone on long enough.
“As U.S. Attorney Stuart stated, the state Supreme Court stands in judgment of all West Virginians, and those justices’ conduct must be above reproach,” Prezioso said. “This saga has gone on long enough, and the Governor must call a special session to help restore the trust of all West Virginians in the justice system by allowing the impeachment process to begin so that the people can elect a new Supreme Court Justice in November. Time is of the essence.”
The West Virginia Association for Justice issued a news release Wednesday.
In the release, Stephen New, president of the association said restoring public confidence in the state’s highest court must be a priority.
“No individual is above the law,” New said. “Those in public office, especially our judges, should be held to the highest standards of ethics and professional conduct. West Virginia voters put their confidence in Justice Loughry when they elected him to our state’s highest court. If these allegations are found to be true, it’s not just his criminal conduct that’s troubling. It is his total disrespect and disregard for the people who elected him.”
The West Virginia AFL-CIO issued a release in which President Josh Sword said legislative Republicans are facilitating an ongoing culture of corruption by not impeaching Loughry.
“Just like Justice Loughry, these Republican leaders don’t think the rules apply to them, and every day we are learning of another corruption scandal as a result,” Sword said. “In just the past few months, we’ve seen a Republican delegate be forced to resign to avoid jail time and the mishandling of $150 million meant to go to flood victims. Hard-working West Virginia taxpayers deserve better.”
Julie Archer, coordinator for West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, also said in a news release that the public’s trust in the judiciary has been shaken and called for more clarity in the system.
“West Virginians are rightly furious over Justice Loughry’s behavior, but we know they are also worried about another threat to public trust in the judiciary — the secret special-interest money in judicial elections,” Archer said. “In both cases, transparency has to be a part of the solution. To rebuild trust in the West Virginia judiciary and the electoral process, we must shed light on the money that is being spent behind voters’ backs.”