Facing the possibility of taking the stand in an impeachment trial before the West Virginia Senate, the three women serving on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals made their own stands on how they would proceed the day after the House of Delegates voted to impeach all of the court’s sitting justices.
Justice Robin Davis announced her retirement, retroactively effective Monday, during a news conference Tues- day morning, triggering a special election for her replacement.
Tuesday afternoon, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker each released statements say-ing they will not resign from the court, and they both indicated that they look forward to answering questions and explaining their actions to members of the Senate, if the impeachment process goes to trial.
During her news conference, Davis, who had articles of impeachment leveled against her for what was described as lavish spending on office renovations and overpaying senior status judges to hear cases, said she was stepping down precisely to avoid such a situation.
She accused the Republican majority in the House of a political power play to put justices they prefer on the bench.
“Preconceived, result-driven mania among the majority party members in the Legislature cannot result in a just and fair outcome,” she said. “I have always placed my faith in the people of West Virginia. I return that faith to the people of West Virginia today.”
Davis is the second justice to step down from the court in the past two months. Menis Ketchum announced his resignation July 11, one day before the House Judiciary Committee convened for hearings into possibly impeaching the justices.
Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty to a federal criminal information charging him with one count of wire fraud for misusing state vehicles, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said last month. Ketchum’s plea hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23.
His resignation meant he is not subject to impeachment proceedings.
Workman, Davis, Walker and Justice Allen Loughry were impeached by the House of Delegates on Monday, and the House approved a resolution censuring all four justices just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.
The articles of impeachment approved by the House now will advance to the Senate, which will vote on whether the articles against the justices will advance to a trial. If the justices are found to have committed an impeachable offense in the trial, they will be removed from office and banned from again seeking election to public office in the state.
Outside of the impeachment proceedings, Davis, Workman and Walker have not been formally charged with any ethical or criminal violations of law amid a federal investigation and investigations by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission.
Loughry has been suspended from the bench since June 8, pending charges from the commission. He also is the subject of a 25-count federal indictment that accuses him of fraud, lying to investigators, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Davis broke the news of her retirement to a full house in the court chambers. There, she repeatedly criticized the Republican majority of the House of Delegates and its Judiciary Committee for violating due-process rights and carrying out what she referred to as a “plot” to stack the bench.
She accused the Legislature of attempting to usurp the will of the people by taking down all four remaining justices to give Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, absolute control over who controls the court.
“What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation for our state and, indeed, our own society,” she said. “For when a legislative body attempts to dismantle a separate branch of government, the immediate effects, as well as the precedent it sets for the future, can only be deemed disastrous.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, issued a statement Tuesday saying there was no predetermined outcome set forth when the committee began its investigation last month.
In her statement, Workman said she was dismayed by delegates’ decision to “pursue the mass impeachment of the entire West Virginia Supreme Court,” and she said she would miss Davis, whom she described as her colleague and friend.
“I am not resigning, either from the court or my position as chief justice,” Workman said. “There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do.”
Articles of impeachment charging Workman and Walker with lavish spending on their offices were withdrawn from consideration in the House on Monday. Workman is charged with overpaying senior status judges, possibly in violation of criminal fraud laws.
All four of the then-sitting justices were charged with maladministration, failing to adopt and maintain policies regarding state resources, including money, cars, computers and furniture, which led to a culture of abuse and misuse of state resources. That article is the only article of impeachment against Walker the House approved.
Walker said her focus will be on earning the trust and confidence of West Virginians and restoring integrity to the court.
Even though purchases to renovate her office were ill-advised, Walker said, she will work with the Legislature and support its oversight of the court’s budget.
“Even though I disagree with some of the decisions of the House of Delegates, I respect their important constitutional role in this process, and I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions,” Walker said. “I look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the state Senate.”
In his statement Tuesday afternoon, Shott thanked Davis for her service to the state and said he respects Walker’s and Workman’s positions to stay in office and answer impeachment charges in the Senate, if the impeachment goes to trial.
“Unfortunately, as we pursued the evidence, it became clear that the state Supreme Court has been overcome by a culture of entitlement and cavalier indifference with regard to the spending of taxpayer money,” Shott said. “This has resulted in the public’s loss of confidence in the state’s highest court which must be repaired.”
Gov. Justice also issued a statement thanking Davis for her service, and saying a special election will take place.
“Today my general counsel will provide the necessary documentation to the Secretary of State’s Office so that the special election process may begin immediately for this vacancy. The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will immediately begin the process of filling this vacancy with an appointee to serve as a justice until the people of West Virginia elect a new justice in a special election,” Justice said.