Senate Planning to Ask Supreme Court to Reconsider Blocking Impeachment Trials
Moments after West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael gaveled in Monday morning, an anticipated but nevertheless awkward silence fell across the chamber. But that silence, indicating a roadblock in impeachment proceedings, gave way to lengthy discussions about what might happen next.
After making his way through chamber formalities, Carmichael called Acting Chief Justice Paul Farrell to the podium to begin the day.
But Farrell, a circuit judge from Cabell County who is presiding over the impeachment trials of state Supreme Court justices, was nowhere to be found.
The Senate had been set to begin the impeachment trial of West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman. But an opinion handed down Thursday -- by a temporary bench appointed to hear her challenge to her impeachment -- has effectively blocked any proceedings from moving forward.
According to that opinion, Workman’s impeachment was unconstitutional -- and the House of Delegates did not follow due process when they passed individual articles, but not a full resolution, on impeachment.
With the Senate unable to move forward, members spoke Monday about how they might continue the trials. In addition to Workman, retired Justice Robin Davis and suspended Justice Allen Loughry have yet to stand trial in the court of impeachment. Justice Beth Walker was tried and acquitted earlier this month.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the Senate should not have been named in Workman’s lawsuit filed ahead of her trial. In Workman’s challenge to her impeachment, filed in September, attorneys argued the impeachment articles charging her were unconstitutional.
The House of Delegates has the sole power to impeach public officials, according to the West Virginia Constitution. State senators act as jurors in a trial of those accused.
“So, to the extent that Chief Justice Workman’s petition called upon the state Supreme Court to review what occurred in the West Virginia House of Delegates, the West Virginia Senate is not the right party to answer," Trump said.
Trump said lawmakers should ask the West Virginia Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the case.
"We are in a very important moment here and it's critical for our institutions of government. It's critical for the citizens of West Virginia. It's critical for the future, for those who will follow us and look back to see what we did or didn't do. It's critical that we get it right,” Trump said.
Others, including Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, argued it’s best to just go along with the court’s decision and walk away from the looming trials.
“It's time now -- after the weeks and the thousands upon thousands of dollars that we've expended in this process -- to decide what really is the end game. What will we really gain by continuing on?” Romano said.
Others suggested compelling Farrell, the presiding judge, to appear and oversee the impeachment trial. Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, took aim at Workman for appointing Farrell, who then appointed a retired Justice Thomas McHugh, who appointed James Matish to act as chief justice and, in turn, choose a group of judges to hear the case.
“Are we going to allow people to just deliver their own self-interest in whatever way they want?” Karnes said.
Del. Rodney Miller, a Democrat from Boone County who is one of the House Managers acting as the prosecution, said the House could reconvene, draft and consider an article of impeachment against suspended Justice Allen Loughry. Loughry was convicted last week on 11 of 22 federal charges, including fraud, witness tampering and making false statements.
But Carmichael said, for now, the Senate will ask the court to reconsider its opinion that blocks Workman’s trial from proceeding.
“We will file a petition for requesting reconsideration. And we'll do that immediately,” Carmichael said. “We are going to be respectful, professional and ensure that we adhere to all the constraints and the requirements of the law and will handle this appropriately.”