The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not hear arguments in the case that halted impeachment proceedings against West Virginia Supreme Court justices last year.
The decision means an October 2018 ruling from the state Supreme Court that halted those proceedings will stand.
Last October, members of a specially appointed West Virginia Supreme Court found that the House had violated Justice Margaret Workman’s right to due process when it passed the articles of impeachment against her and other justices in August 2018.
They agreed with Workman, who said the House failed to follow proper procedure when it failed to adopt a formal resolution to impeach Workman and three other then-justices.
The House filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in January, joined by the state Senate in March. Attorneys for the legislative bodies asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the state Supreme Court overstepped the bounds of the separation of powers in its October 2018 ruling.
They argued that impeachment proceedings only should be affected by the Legislature. Attorneys for the House called the state court’s ruling “a continuing danger” that “eviscerated an important constitutional check among the three branches of government.”
Workman’s attorney, Marc Williams of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP in Huntington, said in court filings the state House of Delegates had no grounds to challenge the West Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Workman’s case because the House was not part of the court proceedings in the original case at the state level.
In a statement Monday morning, Workman said she was “gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld my position by refusing to hear the appeal of the dismissal of the impeachment articles filed against me. With this order from the nation’s highest Court, we can finally rest knowing that the impeachment proceeding that consumed so much time and energy last year is over.
“In my almost 30 years as a judge and justice, I have always been committed to serving while upholding the highest ethical standards. I plan to complete the term to which the people of West Virginia elected me in the same manner that I have during all my years of judicial service — with fairness and integrity while upholding the rule of law,” Workman said. Her 12-year term is up at the end of 2020.
Williams, her lawyer, said Monday’s decision brought what he called “this unfortunate circumstance” to an end.
“There is a significant lesson for everyone who has been impacted by this process. Impeachment is a mechanism that should be exercised with great restraint and, if necessary, in a way that guarantees Due Process to those involved,” he said in a statement.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said he was “deeply disappointed” the court wouldn’t hear arguments in the case.
“We always knew it was a long shot due to the Supreme Court taking up so few cases per year,” Carmichael said. “On average, about 7,000 cases are petitioned for certiorari each year, and only 100 to 150 petitions are granted. Though we will not get our day before the nation’s highest court, we will continue to look for ways to right the wrong we believe the appointed state Supreme Court committed during the impeachment process.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, echoed Carmichael’s disappointment.
“We’re disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court denied our petition in this appeal, although we understand it as the odds were stacked against us given the small number of cases the Court decides to hear each year,” Hanshaw said.
Hanshaw added that while they have exhausted their avenues in the court system, they would consider other options, including a possible constitutional amendment “to expressly clarify each branch of government’s powers with regard to impeachments going forward.”
When she filed her appeal with the West Virginia Supreme Court, Workman — who was the court’s chief justice at the time — appointed former West Virginia Supreme Court justice Thomas McHugh as acting chief justice for the case and ordered him to appoint a chief justice, who then would appoint four other justices to consider the matter.
McHugh appointed Harrison Circuit Judge James Matish as acting chief justice. Matish appointed Hancock Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, McDowell Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky II and Upshur Circuit Judge Jacob Reger to preside on the court for the duration of Workman’s case.
In the decision on Oct. 11, 2018, Matish, Murensky and Wilson all said Workman’s due process rights were violated, and some of the articles of impeachment against her violated the separation of powers. They invalidated all four articles of impeachment against her.
Bloom and Reger concurred in part and dissented in part with the decision. They said that, while they agreed with the majority of the court that the House committed an error in adopting the articles of impeachment, it was not the court’s place to correct the error under the state’s separation of powers clause. That responsibility, the two temporary justices said, belonged to the Legislature.
The court handed down its ruling four days before Workman’s impeachment trial was to begin in the Senate. The ruling established a precedent that effectively invalidated articles of impeachment against former justices Robin Davis and Allen Loughry.
Davis resigned in August 2018 after being impeached by the House. Loughry was convicted in October 2018 of 10 federal charges, including mail fraud, wire fraud and lying to federal investigators. The jury in his case handed down its verdict one day after the state Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Workman’s case.
Loughry formally resigned from the court, effective Nov. 12, 2018.
The only justice to actually have a trial in the state Senate after being impeached by the House was current Chief Justice Beth Walker. Senators voted on Oct. 2, 2018, to publicly censure Walker, but did not remove her from office.
Another justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned from the court in July 2018, the day before impeachment proceedings started. Ketchum later pleaded guilty to one federal charge of wire fraud.
The ramifications of the impeachment process ultimately resulted in reversing the political makeup of the court from a 3-2 Democratic majority to a 3-2 Republican majority.
Walker and Workman, are the only two justices who maintained their positions on the court after impeachment. Walker is a Republican, and Workman is a Democrat.
After Ketchum and Davis — both Democrats — resigned, Gov. Jim Justice appointed Justices Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins to temporarily serve on the court until a special election in November. Justice appointed both men to the court on Aug. 25, 2018.
“What we need to do more than anything is repair, move on and show the nation how committed we are as West Virginians to have a solid court and, in my opinion, without any question, a conservative court,” Justice said during a news conference announcing his appointments.
Both men, who are Republicans, subsequently were elected to complete Ketchum’s and Davis’ respective terms.
Armstead’s term will end in 2020, and Jenkins’ term will end in 2024.
At the time of their appointments, Armstead was speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, and Jenkins was a lame duck member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Armstead announced in January 2018 that he would not seek reelection to the House. On Aug. 22, 2018, he resigned from the House and filed candidacy for the Supreme Court special election. Justice appointed him to the temporary spot on the court four days later.
Jenkins served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2015 until Justice appointed him to the state Supreme Court. Jenkins sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2018, but he lost to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the May 2018 primary election. Morrisey later went on to lose his senate bid to incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
After Loughry, a Republican, resigned in November, Justice appointed John Hutchison to serve the rest of the term, which ends in 2020.
Hutchison had served as a circuit court in Raleigh County for 23 years. Justice described him as “one of the most conservative, respected jurists” in the state.
Hutchison previously was elected as a circuit judge as a Democrat.
To date, Armstead and Hutchison have filed pre-candidacy paperwork for the 2020 Supreme Court election.