Last Thursday, the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee began hearings that may lead to the impeachment of one or more of the state’s supreme court justices. The hearings were precipitated by accusations of rampant overspending and other ethical violations by Chief Justice Allen Loughry, who was indicted on 22 counts of fraud and other malfeasance by a federal grand jury.
Thursday’s hearings focused on a now-infamous $32,000 couch, part of an alleged $360,000 in taxpayer money that Loughry spent on his office between 2013 and his suspension last year. The supreme court’s deputy director of security testified that the couch was moved from the courthouse to Loughry’s home, and that after Loughry was suspended from his duties he contacted the security office to help him move the couch (and a historic Cass Gilbert desk) again–this time to a warehouse, in order to avoid ongoing media scrutiny. Other court officials testified about Loughry’s improper use of state vehicles and the extraordinary remodeling of Loughry’s chambers.
Legislators also questioned the court’s public information officer, who had previously told a reporter that “the Court has a longstanding practice of providing Justices an opportunity to establish a home office,” including the use of court furniture. The PIO explained that she was told about the alleged practice by Loughry, and deferred to him in light of his position and experience. In fact, no such policy exists.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee planned their own tour of the supreme court offices last Friday, but cancelled after the Court refused to allow media and other observers to join the legislators.
There will be more to come in this ugly situation. Stay tuned.