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Lawmakers to ask Supreme Court to reconsider impeachment decision

The West Virginia Senate plans to ask acting justices of the state Supreme Court to reconsider blocking the impeachment trial of an impeached justice.

The West Virginia House of Delegates impeached all four sitting West Virginia Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Margaret Workman, in August. Workman was impeached for paying retired judges as independent contractors, allowing them to exceed a pay limit set by state law, and for failing to implement policies to control spending, including money spent on office renovations and the personal use of state vehicles.

The West Virginia Senate sits as a court of impeachment during impeachment trials, and the state Constitution says that the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the case.

Several justices, including Workman, were disqualified from hearing her case. Workman appointed former Justice Thomas McHugh, who then appointed Harrison County Judge James Matish. Matish appointed other judges to serve as acting Supreme Court justices with him in her case. She then asked those judges to end the proceedings against her.

The acting justices sided with Workman last week, finding that the House of Delegates made procedural errors and that they violated separation of powers by impeaching Workman for an administrative role that the West Virginia Constitution gives the court discretion over.

Some lawmakers have questioned the impartiality of the acting justices. The West Virginia Constitution gives the court the authority to preside over impeachments. It says:

“When sitting as a court of impeachment, the president of the supreme court of appeals, or, if from any cause it be improper for him to act, then any other judge of that court, to be designated by it, shall preside; and the senators shall be on oath or affirmation, to do justice according to law and evidence.”

The acting justices included Matish, Kanawha Judge Duke Bloom, who concurred in part and dissented in part, Upshur Judge Jacob Reger, who concurred in part and dissented in part, McDowell Judge Rudolph Murensky, and Hancock Judge Ronald Wilson.

Marc Williams, Workman’s attorney, said that questions about the judges’ impartiality were “Monday-morning quarterbacking.” He said that Workman chose former Justice McHugh, who is widely respected, to serve as a “buffer” and select the acting chief justice.

He said the Senate’s attorneys didn’t make those complaints when those judges were appointed. However, the complaints have come from the House of Delegates, which Workman didn’t name as a respondent.

West Virginia state senators had planned to meet to begin Workman’s trial Monday, but Acting Chief Justice Paul Farrell had said last week the court’s decision blocked him from presiding. He is presiding over the Senate trials, but was disqualified from considering Workman’s argument. Workman had appointed Farrell after the suspension of Allen Loughry, who was found guilty of criminal charges last week.

Monday morning at the West Virginia Capitol, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan and judiciary chairman, told senators that he believed the court was the final arbiter of the law in regard to the senior status judge’s allegation. However, he also said he believed they may consider revisiting the procedural errors part of the case, since Workman had not named the House of Delegates as a respondent and delegates had not had a chance to defend themselves.

“It is important that we all exercise deliberation, the best judgment we can muster, because history will judge us for how we react, what we do in this moment,” he said.

“I’m not going to say that their judgements were wrong,” he said, in an interview afterward. “What I will say is that they haven’t heard as part of their decision-making process from the real party from whom they should hear, and that is the House of Delegates.”

Debate followed Trump’s remarks.

Sen. Robert Karnes, an Upshur County Republican, suggested compelling Farrell to the Senate, while Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, made reference to West Virginia’s designation as a “judicial hellhole,” which was not listed in the articles of impeachment but has been a common Republican refrain over the years.

Democrats have accused the Republicans who control the Legislature of a partisan power grab in impeaching the Democrat-majority Supreme Court.

“He is bound by the opinion that now exists from the Supreme Court regarding our proceedings and in my opinion Judge Farrell probably – I haven’t talked to him – but I think he probably feels like he cannot appear,” Trump said afterward. “The idea of going and collecting him – dragging him here – we like Judge Farrell, we like to see him. However, I don’t see that as being anything that’s going to get us on a serious path to getting to the full proper adjudication of the questions that have been raised and presented and in one opinion now decided, which is what I want.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael has also suggested appealing the case to the United States Supreme Court.

Trump said he didn’t think the U.S. Supreme Court had any interest and “perhaps no jurisdiction.” He also noted that it would be expensive and could take months or years “even if there’s some remote possibility they would be interested.”

“It’s our appeal process certainly,” added Carmichael, who was separately taking questions from reporters. “It’s available to us. We’re weighing our options.”

House Democrats sent a press release Monday afternoon, criticizing Republicans for failing to follow proper protocol.

“The House should impeach itself for maladministration,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, “but the odds are that would get botched too with this leadership.”

Also Monday, Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said, via email, that the Supreme Court had voted during an administrative conference to support an amendment on the November ballot, which would give the Legislature some control over the Supreme Court’s budget.

Fonte: THE REGISTER HERALD – Beckley, West Virginia

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