Impeached West Virginia justice files federal suit alleging a 'power grab'

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A justice on West Virginia’s top court who resigned after being impeached has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the effort to remove her was motivated by dislike of her views and judicial opinions in violation of her First Amendment rights.

Former Justice Robin Davis of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals filed the suit Wednesday in Charleston, West Virginia, report Courthouse News Service and West Virginia MetroNews. The suit accuses lawmakers of filing the articles of impeachment in a “nakedly partisan move.”

Davis resigned in August after the state’s House of Delegates voted to impeach her and three other justices remaining on the court. A fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, had resigned and pleaded guilty to wire fraud ahead of the impeachment vote. The timing of Davis’ resignation allows voters to elect her replacement in a November special election.

Davis and another impeached justice, Chief Justice Margaret Workman, are Democrats, while the two other impeached justices, Beth Walker and Allen Loughry, are Republicans.

The mass impeachment vote “makes clear that the impeachment process was not an effort to uncover misfeasance, but instead a power grab designed to remove justices with whom the delegates disagreed,” the suit says.

Davis says the articles of impeachment were factually and legally insufficient and she should not be subjected to an impeachment trial. Davis could possibly lose her state pension if convicted after a trial, in violation of her due process rights, the suit alleges.

Davis’ suit notes that Loughry was the only man among the impeached justices, and unlike the women, Loughry was facing federal charges. The suit says lawmakers would not have pursued impeachment charges if Davis were male, and says the move violated her equal protection rights.

Davis and the other three impeached justices had been accused of failing to develop guidelines for the use of public resources. Loughry, Davis and Workman are also accused of authorizing payments to senior status judges above amounts allowed by law.

Davis was also accused of spending more than $500,000 on a renovation of her offices, leading to an impeachment charge of “unnecessary and lavish spending.” The amount topped the spending of any other West Virginia justice, including the indicted Loughry, who was accused of unnecessary spending for renovations that cost $363,000.

Loughry was also accused of moving a $42,000 antique desk owned by the state to his home, lying to lawmakers about the desk and using state vehicles for personal travel.

Davis’ suit says the judiciary has power under the state constitution to set its own budget, and the impeachment violates separation of powers.

Workman is also taking court action. She filed a petition on Sept. 21 asking the state high court to stay the impeachment trial, MetroNews reports in another story She disqualified herself from hearing the petition.

Workman told the news service she “can’t help but believe” the impeachment is a political effort. “I don’t have one blemish on my record of integrity and good conduct,” she said.

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