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Senators propose an impeachment trial re-hearing before the Supreme Court

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate is moving toward asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider some aspects of its ruling that has blocked an impeachment trial for Justice Margaret Workman.

Senators discussed a reconsideration motion today when the scheduled impeachment trial for Workman couldn’t go on because presiding Judge Paul Farrell did not report. Farrell had previously said he could not preside in violation of a court order.

As discussed in the Senate, such a motion seems unlikely to challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling on constitutional grounds but instead would question aspects of the court’s ruling on impeachment procedural issues.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” said a motion to reconsider is the next step.

“We’re adhering to the judicial branch of government’s thought process, we’re going through the process to ask them to reconsider and we’re recognizing that the Constitution of our state provides this impeachment process as the sole responsibility with the House of Delegates and the Senate,” Carmichael said.

Chief Justice Workman had been scheduled for impeachment trial today on three articles.

Workman’s lawyers filed a motion Sept. 21 with the very court where she serves to block the trial.

Last Thursday, five judges who were serving as an acting Supreme Court ruled in Workman’s favor, based on several grounds.

The judges make it clear that their ruling should not be interpreted to mean the Legislature does not have the power to impeach officials in the judicial branch.

Much of the acting court’s ruling was based on constitutional separation of powers issues.

Speaking before the Senate on Monday morning, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump suggested the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Constitution is likely the last word on that.

“The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is or is not constitutional,” Trump said.

But the acting Supreme Court also weighed in on some procedural issues that took place in the House of Delegates.

That aspect of the ruling suggested the House had not gone through proper procedures for the impeachment process by not including findings of fact in the articles and failing to pass a full resolution adopting the articles.

A separate opinion by acting justices Duke Bloom and Jacob Reger suggested the acting Supreme Court should not even have weighed in on those matters.

“It is clear that when the majority opinion resolved the substantive issues in Article IV, Article VI and Article XIV, the petitioner had obtained the relief she sought,” the two judges wrote. “Thus, there was no need to address the remaining issues raised.”

Bloom and Reger suggested that aspect of the broader ruling could also halt the impeachment trials for justices Robin Davis and Allen Loughry.

“More importantly, the advisory opinion on the two issues has a lethal consequence — it has invalidated the impeachment trials of the two remaining judicial officers,” Bloom and Reger wrote.

Trump, R-Morgan, said there was another problem with a ruling based on House procedures: Workman’s motion named the Senate.

“Our role in impeachment is essentially as a jury,” Trump said. “So to the extent that Chief Justice Workman’s petition called upon the state Supreme Court to review what occurred in the West Virginia  House of Delegates, the West Virginia Senate is not the right party to answer.”

Some other senators suggested this effort is a logical step that respects the Supreme Court’s ruling while also attempting to exert the Senate’s constitutional duties.

“This is difficult. It’s a struggle. It should be a struggle. It’s the best way we can get it right,” said Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas.

Senator Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, spoke up in favor of moving ahead with the impeachment trial.

Karnes accused Chief Justice Workman of meddling with the process, saying she first chose the presiding officer of the impeachment trial and then moved forward with a motion to the Supreme Court to halt the proceedings.

Karnes then made the case that Presiding Judge Farrell should be compelled to appear.

“Are we going to allow people to just deliver their own self interest in whatever way they want?” Karnes asked.

When the Senate gaveled in this morning, it was unclear what course it would take. Late last week, statements from the Senate had indicated the possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Carmichael gaveled in, and the Senate went through the rituals of beginning a floor session. Then Carmichael said, “The hour has arrived for the Senate to sit as court of impeachment. The Senate will call presiding officer Farrell to the chair.”

Farrell did not appear, and senators then began to debate what to do next.