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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

W.Va. court deserved impeachment

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach all four justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court. A fifth one escaped by resigning last month and then pleading guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud.

(UPDATE: One impeached justice just resigned. See after the post.)

They are crooks and deserve to be booted out of office, and banned from seeking office in the state again. Sadly, they are only the latest in a revolving door of grifters who abused the highest judicial office in the state.

The state Supreme Court did OK for its first century or so, then in 1976 the unions put up three men who won the majority of the five seats: Sam R. Harshbarger, Thomas B. Miller, and Darrell V. McGraw Jr. They turned the court into a workers compensation mill, approving in favor of the employee any and all appeals.

If that was not bad enough, they took a case and loosened their own pension requirements without bothering to get the approval of the Legislature.

McGraw one summer took a state van, packed it with his family, and went on a National Lampoon-style road trip throughout the West and parts of Canada.

But a Democratic Legislature could not be bothered with reining him in. His term ended in 1988. Four years later, he came back like a bad penny as attorney general.

Then there was his brother, Warren, who was elected to the court in 1998. He had been the state Senate president a few years earlier. He decided to legislate from the bench. His most famous case involved a teenage boy convicted of molesting younger children.

Instead of sending the miscreant to a juvenile detention center as the law said, Warren McGraw decided to send him to work as a janitor at a high school.

That -- and a maniacal scream at a union Labor Day rally -- cost him re-election.

Brent Benjamin succeeded him. Don Blankenship spent $3 million to get him elected. Blankenship also helped elect Spike Maynard to the high court. He even went to the Riviera with Spike.

When it came time to hear a case involving Blankenship's Massey Energy, the two justices failed to recuse themselves. They ruled in favor of Massey. The plaintiff appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court called for a second hearing on the appeal -- and practically ordered the two justices to recuse themselves.

In 2012, Allen Loughry, one of the court's law clerks, ran for justice. Actually two did, but only Loughry won a nomination. Loughry (pronounced law-free, as he said in his ads) had written a book, "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia."

He had helped lobby for public financing -- taxpayer-paid politicking. The Legislature decided to try it to see how it worked. Loughry became the first and only candidate to receive the money.

Once in office, Loughry continued to spend taxpayer money as if it were his own. He started using a state car over the holidays. He pushed for expensive renovations of the court's offices. He had taxpayers buy a $32,000 couch for his office. He took home a court computer, and an expensive antique desk.

When Kennie Bass of Channel 8 asked him about it, Loughry lied through his teeth.

In short, he was as corrupt as anyone in his book.

Which resulted in a 25-count federal indictment.

Spending other people's money is intoxicating. Justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis imbibed. Ketchum used a state car to commute 80 miles to his home. Davis bought an $8,000 chair. Her husband is one of the richest ambulance chasers in the state. They spent $3,000 each on statues of their dogs.

But public money is like holy water, right? Everybody takes a little.

Justices Peggy Workman and Davis approved pensions larger than the law allows for senior judges.

The fifth justice, Beth Walker, failed to blow the whistle on all this. And like the rest, she renovated her office. It was the in thing. I wonder whose buddy got the contract.

The state Constitution pretty much required these impeachments.

"Any officer of the state may be impeached for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor," the state Constitution says.

The next step is two-thirds of the Senate accepting the impeachment, then a trial in the Senate, which will then vote on whether to remove them. The governor would appoint any replacements, subject to Senate approval.

The Associated Press reported, "A proposed constitutional amendment this fall would bring the state courts' budget partly under legislative control."

I was not going to vote for the thing because the Legislature has enough to do. But after this, I may change my mind.

Update from the man who broke the story that led to the impeachments.

Justice Robin Davis is retiring from the after nearly 22 years on the bench. Her retirement is effective yesterday.

###

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23 comments:

  1. I didn't know you could even pay $32,000 for a couch. I'm not thinking big enough.

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    1. I don't understand this, even when spending other people's money. I doubt sitting on a 32K couch or 8k chair feels any different than sitting on a 1K couch or $400chair. Just like the 60K tables the FBI bought.

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    2. Or the $90,000 desk McCabe bought.

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    3. It's an embezzelment scheme. The official who spends the money and the contractor who receives the money are working together to leech money away from government coffers. The 32K couch probably cost about $250. The rest of that money was split between the grifters involved.

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  2. Three of four with a fifth resigning.
    Was one of the four not resigning not impeached?

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    1. Allfour were impeached. I updated.

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    2. Impeachments now go to the Senate for trial, but I'll bet they will all resign or retire to avoid that. Robin Davis retired yesterday. Rats/ship/sinking. - Elric

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  3. Wow. Thanks, Don, great rundown.
    JimNorCal

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  4. Rhetorical question: why is out of town travel to conferences on taxpayer expense so alluring to bureaucrats of all stripes and hues?

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  5. The Justice that wasn't impeached or resigned is probably being shunned by the other judges for being an outsider.

    What a cesspool.

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  6. There's something about the heavy-handed way these justices are being treated that just doesn't sit right with me. I wonder if "justice" is actually being done, or if the punishment is far in excess of the crimes. I bet high renovation budgets and furniture spending is a rampant problem in government offices all over this country. And if a fine tooth comb was taken to the driving habits of all state employees, I bet you would find a high percentage used the state car over the holidays. And taking a computer home from the court-- the way people work from home these days, there probably is a lot of gray area as to which uses are proper or not. Possibly the desk taken home would be returned when the justice left office. Or maybe it was being replaced and would have gone to some warehouse to be auctioned. Before these people were vilified, had the state done its job of establishing policies and guidelines for state spending on office renovation and such? Were these justices misled by administrative staff who organized the renovation, who may have lost perspective on what is an appropriate level of spending? I remember early in my career being astonished at how much a conference table that my bosses purchased cost. Office furniture can be very expensive, and it's often custom made. Had the state established clearcut guidelines and made employees aware of them? And Beth Walker being impeached because she didn't blow the whistle on the others? I just don't really get it. Economizing is definitely an important principle. But I suspect that these type of prices for furniture are almost the norm in alot of office renovations. It shouldn't be, but I can understand the justices rather innocently assuming this is just how it works. How much has been spent on the renovation of the governor's mansion each time a new governor moves in? I'm not sure what the financial structure is for the Supreme Court, but doesn't the state treasurer or accounting department have a role to play in setting guidelines and communicating them? I feel especially bad for Alan Loughry. My sense is he's a really decent man, and this is just a tragedy that he's been caught up in this.

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    1. Well, Anon, now that I’m finished weeping...

      My old boss at FINRA, the best one I’ve ever had, used to tell me, “Kelly, I spend the company’s money as if it were my own.” Wise words from Mario, and definitely ones to live by.

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    2. If you're having trouble wondering what's wrong with a $32,000 office couch, I'm not sure anyone could explain it to you.

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    3. I guess the most I've ever spent for a couch was in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. So I do realize a $32,000 couch is a huge price. The conference table that my bosses bought (which I referred to in the post above) was decades ago when I was working for a bank. As a normal person, I think what they paid for it was ridiculous, but banks are banks, and they wanted their executive offices to be snazzy, impress clients, etc. I do realize what they've spent on the renovations is excessive, and one of the justices should have lobbied the others to be more economical (and maybe one or more of them did raise that). But is justice being evenly applied? Going to jail for 395 years?? What about other renovations of state offices, and other people's habits while driving state vehicles? Now, if there were kickbacks involved, or related-party issues in where they bought the furniture from, that's another thing entirely, that of course needs to be severely addressed.

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  7. This has always been my problem w WV - lovely state, very nice people, but you have all the corruption holding back investment in the state - and related government tax revenue/economics that would follow. Would love to have a retirement house and land there, but almost as bad as having one in Kalifornia, upstate NY or Massachusetts - your property w/b at risk of kleptocrats effectively confiscating it by taxation/regulation/muni pension obligations. Corruption affects everything down the line - education, medical care, commerce and retail stores. Have visited White Sulphur Springs, Union, Narrows, Middlesboro and Pineville - so pretty to visit, but really creates a conflict when options include NC, VA, KY and TN.

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  8. Been practicing as an appellate lawyer in NY for over 30 years. Our judicial corruption is more along the "jobs for the boys" scheme. It has seemed to me, especially recently, that those who work for the court system are the ones getting the judicial appointments.

    I suppose the corrupt nature of the system is highlighted by our now retired chief judge, Jon Lippman. Guy went straight into the court system as a law assistant, never practiced law, but became Chief Judge Kaye's hatchet man as chief administrative judge (a job for which you do not need to be a judge), then finagled a seat on the state Supreme Court, was appointed to the Appellate Division, then succeeded Judge Kaye. HE NEVER PRACTICED LAW.

    He was the childhood friend of now convicted former Speaker Shel Silver.

    Don't know which I prefer: corruption the old fashioned way -- just taking money or rigging the system with friendly appointments of individuals who have no business on the bench.

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  9. Women keep saying if they were in charge instead of men, government would improve. The WV supreme court proves them wrong. When it comes to corruption in government, women are no more honest than men. Experiment is over. QED.

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  10. The disgraced former mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry, spent 1.3 million to remodel the mayor's office. If not for the affair with her bodyguard, she would still be misspending taxpayer money with no consequences.

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  11. A bunch of nogoodniks finally get their comeuppance.

    Okay, NOW it’s “Amost Heaven”.

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