Supreme Court calls impeachment process a ‘fishing expedition’

CHARLESTON — The state Supreme Court, objecting to the scope of impeachment proceedings, sent a firm letter blasting Legislators for engaging in a “full-fledged fishing expedition.”

The letter,  which came from the Supreme Court’s interim administrator, arrived as a  House of Delegates panel continued looking into allegations against suspended Justice Allen Loughry. The impeachment process also scrutinizes spending and benefits by other justices.

“In short,” it reads, “a full-fledged fishing expedition is now under way before a Committee whose members perform multiple functions: they are prosecutors, making such allegations as they deem appropriate; they are judges deciding on the relevance and materiality of the evidence for themselves and determining the standard of proof they deem sufficient; and they are jurors, deciding on whether their own charges have been established by their own evidence to their own satisfaction.”

The letter seemingly objects to subpoena requests, noting that the court has cooperated with a variety of state and federal investigations, along with FOIA requests by reporters.

“For this reason, we question the Committee’s need to acquire additional information from the Court, unless it is information not previously provided to other entities and obtainable from them,” the letter states.

“This includes further questioning of Court employees who have been questioned by your Auditor and Commission, some on more than one occasion. None of these employees are alleged to have committed any wrongdoing, and several have expressed nervousness and reluctance at the prospect of undergoing additional questioning by your members about anything and everything while being live-streamed to the world.”

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said the Supreme Court has a constitutional duty to cooperate with the hearings taking place at the Capitol.

“The only response I have to that is each of the justices took an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Shott said. “The Constitution provides a process for impeachment, and that process was triggered by the resolution of the House of Delegates. We’re following up on our Constitutional duty to do so.”

“Because the justices uphold the Constitution, I expect they will honor their duty and provide whatever cooperation we need.”

That all took place behind the scenes Friday, the second day of impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee is considering whether to recommend the impeachment of Justice Loughry, who faces 22 federal charges.

The state Constitution lays out the grounds for impeachment in broad terms: “Any officer of the state may be impeached for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.”

The House of Delegates presents articles of impeachment and then the state Senate acts as a jury.

The Judiciary Committee, which will be making recommendations to the full House, spent the past two days gathering witness testimony and will reconvene late next week.

For several hours Friday, delegates heard from the Supreme Court’s former technology director who said he was sometimes intimidated or threatened with firing over work he was asked to do.

Scott Harvey, the former Supreme Court IT chief, was on a team of technicians who installed computer equipment in Loughry’s home.

Justices had state-issued computers and networks in their homes, but Loughry’s went beyond the norm.

He had two desktops and a laptop that were court property. One of the desktops was mostly used for storing family photographs and playing games, according to a statement of charges issued last month by the state Judicial Investigations Commission.

“Fear basically tells you to do the job or suffer the consequences,” Harvey said.

He claimed he was pressured by former Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury to hire a tech consultant who had worked on Justice Margaret Workman’s campaign.

Harvey also testified that Justice Menis Ketchum threatened to fire him if he couldn’t get the state treasurer to sign off on a cash-flow change for an online system in which the public could purchase magistrate court information. The payments normally would have flowed through the Treasurer’s Office, but court officials wanted to receive the money directly.

Justice Ketchum, announced his retirement this week.

In yet another instance, Harvey said he was asked to use a federal grant for something other than its intended purposes, which he refused.

The grant was meant to set up video communications at public locations, but Harvey claims he was asked to  purchase video equipment to replace broken equipment in magistrate courts or family courts.

“We had a video unit down and instead of waiting to order those, we would take these that were already purchased and move them to that location,” he said.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, asked who put that pressure on him. “It was administrator Johnson,” Harvey said, referring to Supreme Court Administrator Gary Johnson, who left last month.

“Did this cause a rift?” Fast asked.

“It felt like it did,” Harvey said.

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