CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — News reports last year that West Virginia's Supreme Court justices spent more than $3.7 million on office renovations triggered an investigation by lawmakers that has since resulted in the retirement of two justices and the impeachment of three others. It also has created a political firestorm, as Democrats accuse the Republican-led legislature of trying to take control of the court, a separate branch of government.
An audit report commissioned by lawmakers found the court accumulated $29 million in its excess revenue funds in fiscal year 2012 and spent that down to around $333,000 at the start of fiscal year 2016.
Ketchum retired last month and has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to a charge related to the vehicle and fuel use. Loughry was suspended earlier this year over allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain. He also has been indicted on 25 federal charges, including a "scheme to defraud the state of West Virginia and others."
The Supreme Court essentially sets and controls its own budget under the state constitution. As a result of the findings, lawmakers voted to put an amendment on November's ballot that would give the Legislature more control over the budget. Opponents say that would infringe on the courts' independence.
Gov. Jim Justice called the Legislature into special session in June. A House of Delegates committee drew up impeachment articles, which were approved Monday by the full House against Loughry, Davis, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker. The vote sets the stage for a Senate trial that could lead to their removal. The 62-year-old Davis retired Tuesday to avoid going to trial.
Republican John Shott, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the impeachment articles overall reflected a "culture of entitlement."
Lawmakers approved a total of seven impeachment articles against Loughry; four against Davis; three against Workman, and one against Walker.
The Senate trial has yet to be scheduled. Supreme Court officials have said there will be no interruption in their handling of cases in the meantime. The court is in summer recess and is not scheduled to begin hearing cases again until September.
Justice Robin Davis racked up the biggest spending for office renovations at $500,000 — more than three times the average price of a home in Charleston. Most of the money went to construction, while more than $23,000 paid for design work, at a rate of $80 to $120 per hour.
Davis spent $56,500 for glass countertops; another $9,750 for a glass door and floor; $40,000 for stainless-steel cabinets and shelves; $28,000 for rugs; and $8,100 for a desk chair. Former court administrator Steve Canterbury told lawmakers Davis believed the chair would help her bad back.
Republican Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County said he saw the work done in Davis' office, including track lighting on the floor. He said the work was "over the top."
Davis did reimburse the state about $10,000 for a $6,100 sofa, $3,300 for armchairs, and $655 to repair a coffee table.
BLUE SUEDE ... COUCH?
Loughry's $353,000 in office renovations included a $32,000 blue suede couch. Canterbury said Loughry designed the couch to fit a specific area of his office.
Other costs for Loughry's renovations included a $7,500 floor map of West Virginia with a different-colored piece of wood for each county; $16,000 for eight chairs; $6,400 for window treatments; a $2,500 coffee table, and $1,700 for throw pillows.
Loughry has blamed Canterbury for the spending and fired him in January 2017.
Loughry also had a $42,000 antique desk owned by the state moved into his home. He returned the desk after news outlets asked about it.
$100-GRAND NOT SO BAD
The House declined to impeach Walker for spending $131,000 on her office renovations, and an impeachment article drawn up against Workman for $111,000 in renovations was later withdrawn. Some lawmakers said while they didn't condone Walker's spending, it paled in comparison to Davis' and Loughry's expenditures.
Other legislators said they didn't support impeaching any justice for wasteful spending, only for articles pertaining to lying, cheating or stealing.
Walker, who joined the court in 2017, said Tuesday she agreed "that expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight."
Davis and at least one Democratic lawmaker have accused the Republican-led legislature of turning what they said was a legitimate pursuit of charges against Loughry into a blatant attempt to take over the court.
Democratic Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer of Monongalia County said impeaching the other justices is "a power grab ... and using the impeachment process to take over another branch of government."
Workman and Walker announced separately Tuesday afternoon that they won't resign.
"There is no basis for my impeachment," Workman said in a statement.