West Virginia Supreme Court justices Margaret Workman and Beth Walker issued separate statements saying they have no intention of resigning after impeachment votes in the House of Delegates.
“I am not resigning, either from the Court or from my position as Chief Justice,” Workman stated. “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.”
Walker issued her own statement about an hour later, also vowing to remain on duty.
“I remain committed to my oath of office and to serving the citizens of this great state. My focus will be on earning their trust and confidence and restoring integrity to their Supreme Court,” Walker stated.
“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. I look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the state Senate.”
Their statements followed Tuesday’s sudden retirement announcement of fellow Justice Robin Davis.
The House of Delegates on Monday voted for impeachment articles on all the remaining members of the court, including Workman, Walker, Davis, Allen Loughry.
The justices were accused of crossing the line on a variety of items, including failure to hold each other accountable, signing off on skirting the law on payment of senior status judges and spending lavishly on office renovations.
The accusations follow months of controversy that built to a head with Monday’s impeachment hearing in the House of Delegates.
Davis announced her immediate resignation on Tuesday morning, blasting the impeachment process and saying the timing would allow the open seat to be placed on the General Election ballot in November.
Workman’s statement made reference to those recent events.
“I was dismayed by the House of Delegates’ decision yesterday to pursue the mass impeachment of the entire West Virginia Supreme Court,” Workman stated. “I will miss my colleague and friend, Justice Robin Jean Davis, but respect the reasons she chose to retire.”
All of the justices were named in an impeachment article saying they had failed to do enough to hold each other accountable. That article accuses all four remaining justices of failing to establish policies about remodeling state offices, travel budgets, computers for home use and framing of personal items.
Loughry, Davis and Workman were all named in impeachment articles claiming they circumvented state law to pay senior status circuit judges more than they were entitled to be paid during fill-in stints.
Articles that targeted Walker and Workman for the expense of their renovations on their offices did not go forward.
The next step in impeachment would be a trial in the state Senate, which would require a two-thirds majority vote to remove any justices from office.
“I look forward to putting all the facts before the Senate in the next phase of this process,” Workman said.
Davis was critical of the impeachment process and the Republican majority in the House as she announced her retirement in the Supreme Court chamber on Tuesday morning.
“What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed, our very society,” Davis stated. “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 termed disastrous.”
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, issued his own statement saying he respects the decisions that the justices have made.
But Shott said the investigation and findings of the Judiciary Committee over the past month led to the current situation.
“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. This has resulted in the public’s loss of confidence in the state’s highest court which must be repaired,” Shott stated.
“I believe Justice Davis’s decision to resign, as well as the coming trials in the state Senate, will help move us toward the ultimate goal of restoring our citizens’ trust in the judiciary.”
Shott said the justices are under scrutiny not for their rulings but for their administrative decisions with the court.
“An important thing to remember: these articles of impeachment do not accuse the justices of failing in their role as jurists in deciding how to apply the Constitution to the cases before the Court,” he stated.
“Rather, these articles charge the justices with a failure to fulfill their duty to properly oversee and administer the operations of the judicial branch of government. As Chief Justice Workman told the Legislature’s Post Audits Committee in April, ‘We were busy being judges and not perhaps paying enough attention to administrative things.’ That failure in administration has led to the articles of impeachment they now face today.”
With Davis’s announcement, there are only two functioning, full-time members left on the court, Workman and Walker.
Justice Loughry, who faces two dozen federal charges, has been suspended. Last week, the remaining justices named Cabell Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to sit in during the suspension.
Justice Menis Ketchum announced his retirement last month, right before impeachment proceedings were to begin. Ketchum also faces federal charges.
House Democrats renewed their call for Loughry to step down, too.
“Justice Loughry is the reason that the House of Delegates began to investigate the Supreme Court,” stated House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion.
Caputo continued, “I urge Justice Loughry to step down before the end of the day today to allow our state to choose our next justice. It is the most honorable thing that Justice Loughry could do in the wake of the corruption scandal that he created.”
Workman’s statement said the Supreme Court will continue to function and do its work.
“I want the citizens of our state to know that the Court will move forward,” she stated. “The cases set for the fall term, which opens September 5, will be heard and decided as scheduled.”