Senators reprimand Justice Walker, but vote to not impeach

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV MetroNews) -- UPDATE 10/2/18 @ 1:53 p.m.
The West Virginia Senate publicly reprimanded and censured Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker Tuesday as opposed to removing her from office.

Photo by Perry Bennett, West Virginia Legislative Photography

The House previously voted to impeach Walker, but the Senate voted the opposite way, saving Walker's job.

After voting to not remove Walker from office, senators took a brief recess before returning for final motions. Lawmakers adopted a resolution that says the Senate believes Walker should work to improve the administration of the Court and "prevent future inappropriate expenditures and to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations governing the conduct of the Court."

Senate Resolution 205 publicly reprimands and censures Justice Walker.

"Justice Walker has publicly acknowledged the need for changed policies and practices to rebuild public trust in the Court," the resolution states. "Justice Walker supports increased legislative oversight, transparency, and accountability of the Supreme Court of Appeals."

Walker released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

"I am grateful to the members of the West Virginia Senate for their careful deliberations and for permitting me to continue to serve the citizens of this great state as a Justice. I look forward to getting back to the important work of deciding cases fairly and impartially based on the rule of law. In addition, we have serious work to do to improve the administration of the Court and prevent inappropriate future expenditures.

"My commitment to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch is unwavering. That includes significant work to change policies and practices to rebuild public trust in the Court. I look forward to working with the Legislature toward better oversight of the Court’s budget."

Justice Margaret Workman's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15. A Nov. 12 trial date was set for suspended Justice Allen Loughry.

Justice Robin Davis retired in August -- the same day the House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining justices on the bench. Justice Menis Ketchum retired/resigned in July. Ketchum not only resigned, but pleaded guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud.

The justices of the high court are accused of wasting taxpayer money on lavish and unnecessary office renovations among other allegations of wrongdoing.



UPDATE 10/2/18 @ 1:08 p.m.
West Virginia senators voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to not impeach state Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker.

With a vote of 32-1, Walker's job is safe. It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a justice from office.

The Senate then went into recess for 15 minutes.

UPDATE 10/2/18 @ 10:58 a.m.
Several jobs are on the line at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. We are close to learning the fate of Justice Beth Walker.

Senators are now privately deliberating in chambers. Walker's impeachment trial began Monday and has been moving quickly. It will take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a justice from office.

Justice Walker took the stand Monday in her own impeachment trial, acknowledging she had made mistakes, expressing regret and asserting that the problems don’t merit being removed from the Supreme Court.

“I want to apologize for being here. I regret so much the mistakes I made and I’m sorry,” she told the senators who are serving as the Court of Impeachment.

Justice Margaret Workman's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15. A Nov. 12 trial date was set for suspended Justice Allen Loughry.

Justice Robin Davis retired in August -- the same day the House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining justices on the bench. Justice Menis Ketchum retired/resigned in July. Ketchum not only resigned, but pleaded guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud.

The justices of the high court are accused of wasting taxpayer money on lavish and unnecessary office renovations among other allegations of wrongdoing.

UPDATE 10/1/18 @ 8:50 p.m.
Justice Beth Walker took the stand Monday in her own impeachment trial, acknowledging she had made mistakes, expressing regret and asserting that the problems don’t merit being removed from the Supreme Court.

“I want to apologize for being here. I regret so much the mistakes I made and I’m sorry,” she told the senators who are serving as the Court of Impeachment.

“I need to apologize to the taxpayers and to you, so I want to apologize for all of this. I believe people can learn from their mistakes. I have learned from my mistakes to be sure. I think we can restore public trust in the judiciary. I appreciate your consideration.”

Walker was the star witness on the first day of four expected impeachment trials for West Virginia’s Supreme Court justices. She took the stand for about an hour Monday morning and then returned for more than an hour in the afternoon.

So far, this trial is progressing quickly. At the end of Monday’s testimony, House Judiciary Chairman John Shott indicated he had one more witness — former Justice Brent Benjamin — who was subpoenaed to appear at 9 a.m. Tuesday, so the trial will resume then.

Once the final witness has taken the stand, each side would present closing arguments. After that, it would be up to senators serving as the jury of impeachment to deliberate and announce a verdict.

The state Constitution says the Senate has the power to remove public officials from office in an impeachment case. That requires a two-thirds majority vote. Another possibility would be censure, which is an expression of formal disapproval.

Walker, who has been on the Supreme Court since 2017, was named in only one of the 11 impeachment articles passed by the House of Delegates. That’s the fewest of any of the justices.

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.

Essentially, the article claims the justices failed to hold each other accountable. All of the remaining justices were named in that article.

Asked on the witness stand to describe her view of impeachment, Walker said, “I think of stealing, lying and corruption, and I don’t think I’ve done any of those things.”

But she expressed regret over the cost of her office renovations, as well as her participation in taxpayer-paid working lunches from some of Charleston’s nicer restaurants.

Walker wrote a check for $2,019 as reimbursement for one-fifth of the cost of the lunches.

“I should’ve never participated in those lunches in the first place, but I don’t believe they were illegal,” she said.

Taxpayers paid $130,654 to upgrade Justice Walker’s chambers even though they were renovated during the previous term of Justice Brent Benjamin, at a cost of $264,000.

“I regret the office remodeling. I was not a good steward of the taxpayer dollars,” Walker said.

But she said that when she moved into the office, there was hardly anything in it, just two chairs, a table and a couple of lamps.

She also described it as dark and unwelcoming. Walker said she wanted hers to be a place where people would feel free to meet.

“I wanted it to look like it belonged in a Cass Gilbert Capitol,” she said. “I was not impressed by the office that had been decorated by (now-retired) Justice Davis. I even said Cass Gilbert might be rolling in his grave if he saw that. It just doesn’t fit in this Capitol.”

Walker said she wasn’t aware of costs during the renovations, and she had no reason to be concerned at the time.

Her lawyers, Mike Hissam and Zak Ritchie, presented Walker as relatively new to the court and intent on improving its accountability.

“We are eager to present our case to you because we are confident that, at the end of it, you will see that Beth Walker did not engage in any conduct that would justify the extraordinary remedy of removing her from office against the will of the voters,” Hissam said in his opening statement.

But Walker’s lawyers also contended that there is only so much that Walker, as one of five co-equal justices, could do.

“Unlike other officials in our State Constitution, the power of a single Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals who is not the Chief Justice is tightly constrained.”

House Judiciary Chairman Shott, making the case against Walker, suggested that although she was a newcomer to the court, she joined its culture rather than resisting it.

“Our position is she came into an atmosphere of entitlement, an atmosphere of cavalier indifference — and it’s also our position she was uniquely qualified to realize the absence of policies, the atmosphere of reckless spending, of lackadaisical approach to the protection of taxpayer assets,” Shott said in his opening statement.

He added, “She didn’t waste any time joining the party. She immediately became infected by the same atmosphere.”

Shott contended Walker straightened up after the court received a Freedom of Information request by Kennie Bass of WCHS-TV about the working lunches.

“Her behavior continued unabated until the light of the press,” Shott said.

Shott’s opening statement asked one prevailing question: “Did the general public receive a benefit from these expenditures?”

The impeachment trial also included testimony by Justin Robinson, who works for the Legislative Post Audits division. He described investigations into various aspects of the Supreme Court by legislative staff over this past half-year.

Sue Racer Troy, chief financial officer for the court’s financial division, spoke about the court’s policies on issues such as home offices and inventory control.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey briefly testified about his office’s position that the Supreme Court disregarded the purchasing card policies for the lunches that would govern all other state offices.

“If we were to allow state employees to buy themselves lunch, the cost to the state would be astronomical,” McCuskey said.



UPDATE 10/1/18 @ 9:33 a.m.
The first impeachment trial for a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justice is underway.

Watch the trial live here.

Justice Beth Walker's job is on the line. Her trial is taking place on the Senate floor Monday.

"She came into an atmosphere of entitlement," John Shott (R-Mercer) explained Monday morning, saying Walker joined the high court at a time wrongdoing was already happening, but did not do anything to stop it. Shott is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which is tasked with leading the impeachment investigation.

The justices of the high court are accused of wasting taxpayer money on lavish and unnecessary office renovations among other allegations of wrongdoing.

It will take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a justice from office.

Justice Margaret Workman's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15. A Nov. 12 trial date was set for suspended Justice Allen Loughry.

Justice Robin Davis retired in August -- the same day the House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining justices on the bench. Justice Menis Ketchum retired/resigned in July. Ketchum not only resigned, but pleaded guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud.

ORIGINAL STORY 10/1/18
West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker says she wants to go ahead with her impeachment trial in the state Senate.

Her attorneys filed a motion Thursday in response to Chief Justice Margaret Workman’s petition with the state Supreme Court to bring her impeachment trial to a halt, our media partner WV MetroNews reports.

Walker’s impeachment trial is scheduled to begin Monday. It is the first of four scheduled trials for West Virginia’s impeached Supreme Court justices.

“Justice Walker is ready, willing and eager to present her case before the Senate. As a result, she respectfully requests that this court not issue a stay affecting her trial.”

Lawyers for Chief Justice Workman filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court last Friday.

Five circuit judges have been named to hear her petition.

Workman’s impeachment trial in the Senate is second in order, scheduled to start Oct. 15.

Her petition names the state Senate and top staff. The Senate has until this coming Wednesday to respond.

Because of all that — plus the scheduled start for Justice Allen Loughry’s federal trial on Tuesday — the state Supreme Court has put off cases that had been scheduled to be heard Tuesday and Wednesday.

The court sent out a release saying the cases that had been scheduled that day have been “continued generally.”

“Many Court employees, including necessary security staff, have been subpoenaed to appear in both a federal court proceeding and the state Senate impeachment proceedings,” Supreme Court officials stated in the release.

“The Clerk will provide counsel of record with ample notification for when the cases will be heard.”

The Supreme Court’s fall docket originally was supposed to begin in September, but the impeachment proceedings caused that to be pushed off too.

The oral arguments that had been scheduled for Tuesday include a variety of appeals including one associated with the development and construction of the Merritt Creek Farm Shopping Center in Barboursville.

Those originally scheduled for this Wednesday included a nuisance complaint about a shooting range, an argument over partitioning a family farm, an appeal hearing on a sexual abuse case and a petitioner claiming his constitutional right against self-incrimination was violated.

Two members of the Legislature’s Liberty Caucus sent out a statement accusing Chief Justice Workman — along with former Justice Robin Davis, who filed a federal lawsuit over impeachment — of trying to unconstitutionally obstruct the Legislature’s impeachment power.

Delegates Mike Folk, R-Berkeley, and Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, issued their combined statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“In matters of impeachment, the Legislature does not answer to the state Supreme Court or federal courts, it answers only to the voters of our state,” McGeehan stated.

“The people will hold us accountable, not a group of hand-picked judicial allies or colleagues on the federal bench.”

Folk and McGeehan contended the Senate and individual respondents named should not even file a response.

“To file a response to this nonsense would be an acknowledgement that a court has the power to review our sole power, and that is clearly not the case,” Folk stated.

“Anyone with a basic level of literacy can clearly read that impeachment is a matter left to the Legislature alone, and they can see that this is a clear attempt on the part of Justice Workman and former Justice Davis to set a dangerous precedent for any future impeachments by saying that the court could define any of the parameters of this process, which is a clear contradiction to the ‘sole power’ clause of Article Four, Section Nine of our Constitution.”




 
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