West Virginia Impeaches All Its Supreme Court Justices

by: The Knowledge Group

August 22, 2018


West Virginia legislators have impeached all four of the state’s Supreme Court justices, largely over the spending of more than $1 million in office renovations. The justices, originally elected, were also faulted for taking unauthorized advantage of state vehicles, tech equipment, and paid lunches.

One justice alone spent around $500,000 on an office re-do. Maybe not a violation of ethics rules, but provocative to say the least. Another lied—a blatant ethics lapse—to the House Finance Committee about hauling unique and expensive furnishings home. Three of the four had enabled other judges to be paid unlawfully high salaries—reportedly catching the attention of the Internal Revenue Service.

Court Packing?

Democrats generally agreed with one impeachment (with good reason), but are bristling at the bundle. Now, they’re calling the whole affair a power grab. Some of the lawmakers object that the state’s Supreme Court has its own budget, so spending is the judges’ call.

John Shott disagrees, asserting that the justices had a duty to spend in accordance with the best interest of West Virginians. Shott, a Republican from Mercer County, chaired the hearings for the House Judiciary Committee that produced the articles of impeachment.

A Question of Timing

The justices’ profligacy has been a long-running a point of contention. In 2017, investigative videos of the lavish renovations emerged.

Republican legislators took note, but the impeachments are just happening now. And Democrats themselves tried to act earlier to castigate the justices.

West Virginia law provides for replacements on the state’s Supreme Court via a general election, but only if a justice steps down 84 or more days before the next election. For justices who leave within the 84-day period before a general election, replacements are appointed by the West Virginia governor. Republican governor Jim Justice’s newly appointed replacements will keep their seats until May 2020—and only then, by law, will the voters again have their say, in a special election.

As we go to press, one of the four justices has retired in advance of the Senate trial that could lead to the foursome’s removal.

The Knowledge Group take a deep-dive into the ethical obligations of lawyers in 2018 with some industry experts on August 28th at 12 pm eastern standard. This is going to be made available on-demand for those unable to attend, and as always, this is eligible for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Credit.  All of the registration information, along with a full agenda, can be found by clicking here.  We look forward to seeing you there.