Judges assigned to hear petition over impeachment of chief justice

CHARLESTON — Five circuit judges were assigned to temporarily sit on the state Supreme Court to hear Chief Justice Margaret Workman’s petition to halt an impeachment trial.

The acting chief justice, James Matish, of Harrison County, was named Friday.

On Monday, Matish named Judge Ronald Wilson, of Hancock County, Judge Duke Bloom, of Kanawha County, Judge Rudolph Murensky, of McDowell County, and Judge Jacob Reger, of Upshur County, to fill out the court.

Workman on Friday filed a petition with the very Supreme Court she serves on, challenging the legality of impeachment proceedings in the House of Delegates and requesting a stay of impeachment trial in the Senate.

Workman issued an order disqualifying herself from hearing her own petition for writ of mandamus.

Justice Beth Walker also disqualified herself, as did Paul Farrell, a Cabell circuit judge who is serving in place of suspended Justice Allen Loughry. Farrell is presiding over the impeachment trials in the Senate.

Thomas McHugh, a senior status judge and former Supreme Court justice, was temporarily assigned to the court to appoint an acting chief justice who would then appoint four other acting justices.

McHugh filed an order late Friday afternoon appointing Matish of the 15th Judicial Circuit to be acting chief justice in the case.

Delegates voted to impeach Workman, along with the other remaining members of the state Supreme Court on Aug. 13, on allegations that they overstepped their authority and committed acts

of maladministration.

Workman is set for a trial in the Senate starting Oct. 15.

Her petition for writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court names Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Senate pro tempore Donna Boley, Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, Senate Clerk Lee Cassis and the rest of the Senate.

They were asked to file a response by Oct. 3. After that, the acting court could consider the case.

Workman’s lawyers from the Huntington firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough asked for oral arguments.

Their petition contends the Legislature overstepped its bounds when delegates voted to impeach Workman on three charges.

“When you have legitimate questions of constitutional authority, when you have efforts by one branch to infringe upon the rights and responsibilities of another branch, the courts are where that’s resolved,” Marc Williams, one of Workman’s attorneys, said Monday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The petition contends the justice was actually fulfilling her own constitutional duty.

“What our argument is, is that to the extent that these impeachment articles are addressing or trying to impeach justices because of some issue regarding spending, that spending is totally and absolutely in control of the court by our constitutional provision,” Williams said.

“Any attempt to impeach based on that is a violation of the separation of powers.”

Workman faces three articles. One is an all-encompassing maladministration charge, saying the justices failed to hold each other accountable.

That article accuses all four remaining justices of failing to establish policies about remodeling state offices, travel budgets, computers for home use and framing of personal items.

The other two articles that name Workman are somewhat redundant. They allege she signed off on a policy skirting state law by allowing senior status judges to exceed a cap on how much money they can make each year when they serve in open courtrooms around the state.

One of those two articles specifically names Workman. In the other, Workman and Davis are named together.

“She was trying to make sure these courts stay open,” Williams said, “and unfortunately, because of the extended vacancies that occurred because of suspensions and medical problems with some of these judges and other things — and the limited pool of some of these judges and the limited availability of some of these judges to sit for extended periods of time — sometimes senior status judges would make more than the statutory-allowed.”

Tweet @BradMcelhinny. Email Brad.McElhinny@wvradio.com

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