West Virginia lawmakers mull court justice impeachment
By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers started the rare process Tuesday of deciding whether impeachment proceedings are necessary, just days after a state Supreme Court justice was charged in a 22-count criminal indictment.
The House Judiciary Committee met without taking action Tuesday. Earlier the Republican-led House of Delegates voted to have the committee start an investigation that could include any justice on the court, but decided against setting a deadline.
Justice Allen Loughry pleaded not guilty in federal court last week. He was suspended over allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain.
The committee heard from former delegate Marc Harman, who was involved in impeachment proceedings against state Treasurer A. James Manchin in 1989. The House impeached Manchin after the loss of $279 million in state investments, but he resigned before the state Senate took up the measure.
“I consider your case to be much more daunting than mine,” Harman said.
Committee members were given information packets. Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee could reconvene as early as July 9 while investigation materials are being gathered.
There was a lengthy debate earlier in the House chambers over the amendment that would have set a July 23 deadline to finish the impeachment investigation.
“The state of West Virginia is in a mess. A total mess,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton and the amendment’s sponsor. “Public trust is gone. Four weeks ought to be enough to do an investigation.”
Sponaugle argued without success that a lengthy investigation could allow Republican Gov. Jim Justice to make an appointment in the event of an impeachment rather than have voters possibly decide in a special election in November.
If the impeachment proceedings advance, a trial would take place in the state Senate.
The federal criminal indictment accuses Loughry of making personal use of a state vehicle and credit card, including trips to book signings and to visit family. It says Loughry also sought mileage reimbursements for trips even though he drove a state vehicle and used a government credit card for gas.
The indictment also accuses him of moving a leather couch and a historic, valuable desk from the Supreme Court office to his home during office renovations; and of lying to federal agents about his actions and trying to influence an employee’s testimony.
Loughry faces a maximum prison sentence of 395 years and up to $5.5 million in fines if convicted on all criminal charges.
This story corrects the spelling of the former delegate’s first name to Marc.