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Impeachment focus back on W.Va. court after justice resigns

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 file photo, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry leaves the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse in Charleston, W.Va. after a federal jury was selected for his criminal trial. On Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, the office of Gov. Jim Justice said that he has accepted the resignation of the suspended state Supreme Court justice recently convicted of federal charges, days ahead of a legislative session set to consider the justice’s removal amid an ongoing scandal involving the court. (Craig Hudson/The Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Now that an impeached and suspended West Virginia Supreme Court justice has resigned, lawmakers are turning their attention to a panel of justices that had cut off pending impeachment trials.

After Justice Allen Loughry’s resignation, the state Senate wants to revisit an Oct. 11 order halting the Legislature’s efforts to impeach three justices as a violation of the separate of power doctrine. The court hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the Senate’s request.

The panel of acting justices ruled the Senate lacked jurisdiction to pursue Justice Margaret Workman’s impeachment trial. The decision also was applied to trials involving retired Justice Robin Davis and Loughry, who had petitioned the court to intervene.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Monday the focus now is on overturning “this ridiculous, crazy decision by the appointed Supreme Court that just breaks every judicial canon. It is a ridiculous decision that has far-ranging implications for the separations of powers.”

Carmichael said the Senate’s view on the court’s earlier decision is that the court can’t decide whether one of its members can be impeached.

“The court is not a party to this process,” he said. “It is within the constitution (to be) entirely left to the Legislature to determine the impeachment process.”

Loughry resigned effective Monday and is the third justice to leave the five-member court in recent months. Justice Menis Ketchum announced his resignation before the House of Delegates’ impeachment hearings. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her.

Loughry still faces sentencing in federal court for his conviction last month on 11 criminal charges, including wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards and mail fraud.

Workman, Davis, Loughry and Justice Beth Walker were impeached in August over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. Some of the justices were accused of abusing their authority by failing to rein in excessive spending.

Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge at her Senate trial last month.

West Virginia voters last week passed a constitutional amendment that would give legislators the option of reducing part of the state judiciary’s annual budget. The chief justice currently has constitutional autonomy in deciding how the system spends the $139 million budget.

Two Republicans who were appointed as Supreme Court justices after the scandal broke, former House speaker Tim Armstead and ex-Congressman Evan Jenkins, won election to continue on the bench.

Armstead will complete the term of Ketchum through 2020. Jenkins will serve through 2024, when Davis’ term ends.

Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016, but the court’s impeachment scandal stirred political attacks. Some Democrats argued the court’s shakeup was a power grab by the Republican-led legislature.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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