CHARLESTON — In a coincidence that sums up the current state of West Virginia politics, two Supreme Court justices appeared in separate federal courtrooms at the same time to face charges.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of wire fraud while his former fellow justice Allen Loughry entered a not guilty plea to an additional federal charge in connection with an ongoing federal investigation into the state Supreme Court.
“Guilty,” Ketchum, 75, firmly told U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver when the longtime judge asked him how he wanted to plead to the charges against him.
Ketchum later repeated “I plead guilty.”
Ketchum admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and for personal use for golf trips to Virginia.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6.
“Justice Ketchum did the right thing for doing the wrong thing,” U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said in a statement released by his office. “There is no such thing as a small felony. There is no such thing as a little bit of public corruption. I want to praise the exemplary work of the FBI, the West Virginia Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, and prosecutors Anna Forbes and Phil Wright.”
Stuart said those golf trips were to and from Ketchum’s home in Huntington between 2011 and 2014 and the 400-mile round trip cost the state about $220 per trip.
Ketchum is free on $100,000 personal recognizance bond pending sentencing. The maximum sentence is up to 20 years behind bars.
When Ketchum was pleading guilty, Loughry appeared before Federal Magistrate Judge Dwane Tinsley for the third time since being indicted in June.
Loughry, 48, now faces 25 federal criminal counts linked to state Supreme Court spending, the use of state property, obstruction of justice and the alleged lying to federal prosecutors.
Loughry, dressed in a dark suit, stood beside his attorney John Carr for the hearing. It lasted less than five minutes. Neither Loughry nor Carr commented as they left the courthouse. Loughry remains free on $10,000 bond.
Tinsley said Loughry’s trial remains set for Oct. 2 before Copenhaver. Pre-trial motions are due Sept. 4, which is a week before the state Senate is scheduled to begin its pre-trial work in impeachment trials for Loughry, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker.
Ketchum’s hearing lasted about an hour.
Prior to the hearing, he greeted some reporters outside the courtroom. Asked about his disposition, Ketchum replied, “I’m not in good spirits, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be a nice person.”
A few of Ketchum’s relatives attended the hearing, and he took a few moments before it began to greet them.
Ketchum wore a brown striped suit with a yellow tie. He sometimes stood to address Copenhaver but sometimes sat, leaning toward a microphone.
Copenhaver went through the details of the charges and the plea agreement, asking Ketchum over and over for assurances that his understanding was clear and purposeful.
At one point he told the judge that in 2014, the year he first sought permission from the court to commute in the state vehicle, one of his fellow justices provided a warning: “It was a bad policy and unwise or words to that effect,” Ketchum recalled, “and, two, that I should not do it.”
Asked by Copenhaver to put into his own words the charges against him, Ketchum summed up, “I took a 2007 Buick Lucerne to the State of Virginia, and I charged gas on a state gas card in violation of the law.”
House of Delegates Judicial Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, and Vice Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, attended the Ketchum hearing.
Ketchum slipped out the back door of the federal courthouse while media members waited at the front hoping to get a comment.