A year after investigating four West Virginia Supreme Court justices over allegations of violations of judicial ethics, six of nine members of the Judicial Investigation Commission have been replaced, Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy confirmed Thursday.
Among those replaced were the former commission chairman, Hancock Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, and Jefferson County Magistrate Gail Boober, commission vice chairwoman.
Bundy said there was no official explanation as to why the six commissioners were replaced, although all were serving under expired terms.
(Under state law, individuals holding appointed office may continue to serve in that office after their terms expire until a replacement is named.)
Also removed from the commission were Andrew Frye, who had served as a senior status judge, as well as all three members of the public on the commission, Thomas Burgoyne, Robert Fitzsimmons, and Alice Chakmakian, a longtime legislative per-diem attorney.
Christopher Wilkes, one of three commissioners reappointed by the justices, goes from being one of the three circuit judge members of the commission to being the senior status judge. He also was named commission vice chairman.
Also reappointed was Raleigh Circuit Judge H. L. Kirkpatrick, and Robert Hicks of Sistersville, who represents Family Court judges on the commission.
New court appointees are:
- Taylor Circuit Judge Allen Moats, appointed as commission chairman.
- Berkeley Circuit Judge Bridget Cohee.
- Cabell County Magistrate Mike J. Woelfel. (Not to be confused with state Sen. Mike A. Woelfel, D-Cabell.)
- Public members Layton Cottrill, Dr. Cynthia Persily and Margaret Ann O’Neal.
Created by the Supreme Court in 1982, the nine-member commission has authority to investigate alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct by judicial officers.
Last year, the commission filed a 32-count statement of charges against then-justice Allen Loughry, contending that he had abused the prestige of his office with personal use of state resources, including furniture, computers and state vehicles, and for lying to legislators and the public regarding his actions.
In February, after his conviction in federal court on similar charges, Loughry admitted to eight of the 32 counts and agreed to a fine, disbarment and a pledge to never seek public office again.
The commission last summer also investigated Justices Robin Davis, Beth Walker and Margaret Workman for alleged violations of judicial ethics, but, in July, announced that it had concluded those investigations “without taking any disciplinary action.”
Davis later retired from the court before the start of impeachment hearings in the House of Delegates.
In August, the House brought articles of impeachment against Loughry, Davis, Walker and Workman, and the state Senate, in October, censured Walker — before the impeachment trials of the other justices were halted when Workman obtained a writ of prohibition from the acting Supreme Court declaring the Senate proceedings to be an unconstitutional violation of due process.
The fifth member of the court, Justice Menis Ketchum, resigned from the court last July and pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from misuse of a state vehicle and state credit card for personal golf outings.
Ketchum resigned before the start of House impeachment hearings, and was not subject to the JIC investigation.
He was placed on probation, while Loughry is serving a two-year sentence in a federal prison in South Carolina.