Friday, 30 October 2020

Hoppy Kercheval: House Judiciary’s huge decision (Daily Mail Opinion)

It is a foregone conclusion that the House Judiciary Committee will recommend impeachment of suspended State Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, and that the full House will vote for impeachment. The state Senate will then decide whether to remove Loughry from office. That takes a vote by two-thirds of the members.

Most of the evidence during the committee investigation has piled up against Loughry. Democrats, who are in the minority on the committee, have drafted their own articles of impeachment because they want to focus on Loughry now. Committee Chairman Republican John Shott has said he will stay the course, present all the evidence and then have the committee decide on impeachment of one or more justices.

Still, the Democrats’ articles of impeachment are worth a review because they provide insight into the thinking of the minority members on the committee. The Dems crafted eight articles against Loughry based on what they concluded were “A series of actions and representations, documented by clear evidence and sworn testimonials, which exhibits a pattern of corruption and deceitfulness never before seen in our state judicial system.”

The document then proceeds to explain each of the articles against Loughry; taking the Cass Gilbert desk home, removing a couch that belonged to late Justice Joe Albright, making false statements to the House of Delegates Finance Committee, personal use of a state government computer at his home, use of Court vehicles and a state gas credit card for personal use, lying under oath about his office renovations, removing custom picture frames paid for by taxpayers, and multiple violations of the State Code of Judicial Conduct.

A close reading of the articles shows that nowhere do the Democrats argue for impeachment of Loughry just for exorbitant spending. The public has heard repeatedly about the $32,000 couch and the $7,500 wooden inlaid floor in the shape of the state. However, that spending alone does not rise to the level of impeachment in the view of the committee Democrats.

The absence of any reference to wasteful spending as grounds for impeachment is conspicuous, and I doubt it represents the view of many of the Republicans on the committee. After all, this controversy erupted initially after media reports late last year about the Court’s extravagance with taxpayer dollars.

So as the committee nears the end of its investigation, here is the fundamental question: Does lavish spending of taxpayer dollars on office remodeling and furnishings where there is no violation of law or ethics warrant impeachment? Testimony during impeachment proceedings last week showed Justice Robin Davis’s office renovation cost $500,278*, Justice Beth Walker’s cost $130,654 and Justice Margaret Workman’s cost $111,035.

One can argue that wasting taxpayer dollars constitutes maladministration or willful misconduct, which would be grounds for impeachment. Delegates may be influenced by public outrage over the spending and conclude that it would be best to just make a clean sweep of the remaining members of the Court and start over.

However, cutting such a wide swath could set off a kind of chain reaction of impeachments for any public official who spends in ways that some see as wasteful, even if it’s not illegal. It’s evident from the Democrats’ articles of impeachment that they want to set a higher bar.

The upcoming vote will tell us which path the committee will follow.

*Former Court administrator Steve Canterbury testified last week that a large percentage of the cost for Davis’s office was for necessary structural repairs. However, the office remodeling also included $90,000 for glass countertops, a glass door and flooring, $8,000 on an office chair and $28,000 for two luxury rugs.


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