August 14, 2018 / 5:28 PM / a year ago

Top West Virginia judge retires after impeachment vote

(Reuters) - A West Virginia Supreme Court justice retired on Tuesday, the day after state lawmakers voted to start impeachment proceedings against the full court, accusing four judges of lavish spending that included a total of more than $1 million in office renovations.

Justice Robin Davis, 62, said she would retire after state legislators accused her of corruption and neglect of duty, including spending $500,000 on office renovations that featured a $20,000 rug and an $8,000 desk chair.

Davis, a Democrat, retired on the last possible day that would trigger a special election to choose her replacement instead of having Republican Governor Jim Justice appoint a new judge. She accused the Republican lawmakers of deliberately timing their impeachment vote to make it easier for the governor to name replacements.

“The will of the people is being denied,” Davis told local media. “I just cannot allow the finalizing of their plot to come to fruition.”

The court has been mired in scandal since June, when the state’s House of Delegates began an investigation.

Davis, Republican Justice Allen Loughry and Democratic Chief Justice Margaret Workman are charged with illegally overpaying senior status judges, semi-retired jurists who work less than full caseloads. All three, as well as justice Elizabeth Walker, a Republican who was elected in a nonpartisan vote, were impeached for failing to control court expenses.

The court’s fifth justice, Democrat Menis Ketchum, resigned in July and pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Voters will choose his replacement in a special election in November.

The majority of impeachment articles approved on Monday named Loughry, who was indicted in June on federal charges of fraud, false statements and witness tampering. He has been suspended from the court and faces up to 395 years in prison if found guilty.

Loughry is accused of using state funds for personal gain, including spending $363,000 to renovate his personal office, keeping a historic desk from the state capitol at his house, and driving state vehicles to promotional events, as well as making false statements.

On Monday, the delegates voted to have the state Senate begin an impeachment trial. The Senate will now vote on whether the remaining justices will be forced from office.

“Our Supreme Court has breached the public trust and lost the confidence of our citizens,” House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington said in a statement after the vote.

Reporting by Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio

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