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W.Va. House To Consider Impeaching State Supreme Court Justices

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today in West Virginia, members of the House of Delegates are meeting in a special session. The issue is whether to impeach four state Supreme Court justices. Now, there are five members on the bench. The fifth has already resigned. West Virginia's Supreme Court has been under scrutiny since last year after these reports emerged of lavish spending that included hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating the justices' offices. Since then, the court's been accused of corruption, incompetence and a whole lot more. Dave Mistich is a senior political reporter with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. He's in our studios today.

Good morning, Dave.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: I mean, there is a lot going on here. You have four justices facing impeachment. One of them is already out. What happened?

MISTICH: Well, basically, this all started with, like you said, these reports of lavish spending by the court. There was a $32,000 couch that was purchased by one of the justices, a very expensive floor inlay with all the 55 counties of West Virginia, one of which was in this - in a different color - it was his home county - that was put on the floor. There was also talk that he had taken his furniture from his office back to his home - so a lot of things with this one particular justice. And it just sort of unraveled from there.

KING: Other people engaged in similar behavior. But the first murmurs of this came out in late 2017, so why has it taken until the middle of August to have a vote on impeaching?

MISTICH: Right. So all this sort of came out late last year. The House of Delegates had actually, you know, talked a little bit about this during the legislative session. But there was, indeed, a legislative audit that took a look at the court spending - of course, the judicial investigations commission from the state court system that charged Justice Allen Loughry with 32 counts, so they suspended him without pay. Inevitably, that led to a - what is now a 23-count federal indictment that he's pled not guilty to. And then we've also got Justice Menis Ketchum, who's pleaded - agreed to plead guilty to one charge of fraud - so a whole mix of things going on with all across the board with all the justices there.

KING: And so what do voters in West Virginia think about all this?

MISTICH: Well, I think that the general consensus is that they're very frustrated. I think that there's sort of a split on the spending by the court on these offices because up until - as of right now, the judicial branch has control over its own budget. The Legislature this past session passed a resolution that calls for a constitutional amendment that's going to be on the ballot in November for the Legislature to take oversight of the court's budget, so we're waiting on that to happen. I think there's - generally speaking, though, I think the public sees this spending, is very upset by it. I've seen a lot of activity on Twitter to where people are just saying, throw them all out; let's just start all over.

KING: All right. So that is what's at issue for the House of Delegates today, right? They're meeting to vote on impeachment or to talk about impeachment. What is that process, briefly?

MISTICH: Well, last week, the House Judiciary Committee, which has been tasked with investigating these impeachments - they passed through their committee 14 articles of impeachment.

KING: Wow.

MISTICH: Those spell out various charges, some of which are about each individual justice. Others are a combination of those justices. So today, the House of Delegates is scheduled to meet at 10 o'clock. They're going to take a look at these articles of impeachment one by one, decide if the charge is an impeachable offense. They're going to put that up to vote, and then they're going to make a decision on whether or not to send it to a trial in the state Senate.

KING: Wow. All right; Dave Mistich, West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much, Dave.

MISTICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.