CHARLESTON — As four current members of the state Supreme Court face possible removal during impeachment trials before the state Senate, there’s disagreement among justices on who should sit as acting chief justice during any such trials.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed Cabell County Circuit Judge Paul Farrell to the Supreme Court Thursday evening. He was sworn-in Friday to fill the spot on the Court created by the suspension of Justice Allen Loughry. Workman’s order also names Farrell as acting chief justice if impeachment articles against herself, Loughry and justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker make it to the state Senate.
There was reaction to that move by Walker and Davis Friday.
In a filing with the Court, Walker said she agrees with Workman to have Farrell hear Supreme Court cases while Loughry is off the Court but she disagrees that Farrell should be the acting chief justice and preside over any impeachment trials in the Senate involving herself or the other justices.
“I believe it is improper to designate any justice as Acting Chief Justice for impeachment proceedings in which I or my colleagues may have an interest and that have not yet commenced in the Senate,” Walker writes.
Justice Davis, who swore-in Farrell Friday morning, released her own statement on the appointment citing the state Constitution that gives the chief justice the authority to appoint an acting chief justice.
Davis went on to say, “Any statement to the contrary is intellectually flawed and has no basis under our State Constitution.”
Del. Riley Moore, R-Jefferson, said Friday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” he agrees with Walker.
“This gets to the heart of the issue with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals,” Moore said. “Do you have the legal authority to do it? Yes. Should you do it? No. I agree with Justice Walker it’s probably not what should happen.”
The state Judicial Vacancy Committee is currently taking applications from those interested in gaining an appointment from Gov. Jim Justice for an opening on the Supreme Court created with the recent resignation of Menis Ketchum. It’s believed Justice wants to have someone on the Court for the fall term. The position is up for election in November.
Moore said Workman’s move to appoint an acting chief justice for a possible impeachment trial is “just a continual attitude that we see coming from the Supreme Court.”
Moore, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee that has forwarded 14 Articles of Impeachment to the full House, said his opposition to Workman’s move has nothing to do with Judge Farrell himself.
“By all accounts he’s a very good and fair judge. It has nothing to do with him whatsoever,” Moore said.
The full House takes up the Articles of Impeachment Monday.
Loughry was suspended from the High Court earlier this summer after he was named in a 32-count statement of charges by the state Judicial Investigation Commission alleging violations of the state Judicial Code of Conduct. He’s also facing a 23-count federal indictment in connection with court spending, use of state property and allegedly obstructing justice and lying to federal investigators.
The 14 Articles of Impeachment allege mismanagement of the Court, lavish spending on office renovations and the alleged overpayment of senior status judges.
Ketchum is scheduled to plead guilty Aug. 23 to a federal information charging him with wire fraud in connection with the personal use of a state vehicle and state-issued fuel card.