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Scandal Brings Down Entire West Virginia Supreme Court, Interim Judges Named

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GOP Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia has appointed two candidates to interim terms on the state Supreme Court, after the resignations of two justices and the impeachment of three more left the state’s highest judicial tribunal embattled and shorthanded.

The governor selected U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, a Republican representing the southern swath of the state in Congress, and former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead for the positions.

“We’ve lost some level of confidence and some level of trust,” Justice said at a Saturday press conference, in reference to the high court. “And on a nationwide basis it’s cast a black eye. What we need to do more than anything is repair, move on and show the nation how committed we are as West Virginians to have a solid court and, in my opinion, without any question, a conservative court.”

Jenkins and Armstead will be sworn in as justices in mid-September, after a 20-day notice and comment period, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Provided that no objections to their appointments are sustained, they will serve until November’s general election. Both Jenkins and Armstead will stand in that election for a full term on the state Supreme Court.

Armstead will succeed Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned on July 27 and has since pleaded guilty to fraud at a federal court in Charleston. If elected in November, Armstead’s term will expire in 2030. Jenkins will succeed Justice Robin Jean Davis, who resigned on August 14 under threat of impeachment. If elected, his term will also expire in 2030.

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Judicial elections in West Virginia are officially nonpartisan, though Jenkins and Armstead are both Republicans.

Jenkins has been in Congress since 2014. He sought the GOP’s nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2018, but finished second in the primary to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who faces Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the general election.

Jenkins’ campaign for Senate precluded him from seeking reelection to the House. Like Justice, Jenkins was a Democrat for most of his political life until he switched parties in recent years.

Armstead was a member of the state legislature and speaker of the House of Delegates since 2015. He resigned from both positions Tuesday on announcing his campaign for the state Supreme Court. Though he was not required to leave the legislature, Armstead said he resigned to avoid appearances of impropriety or political gamesmanship, given the ongoing impeachment proceedings against three justices on the court.

An impeachment trial will begin in the state Senate against Justices Allen Loughry, Beth Walker, and Margaret Workman in the coming weeks. Though Walker and Workman remain in active service, Loughry was suspended from the court in early June, after West Virginia’s Judicial Investigation Commission lodged a 32-part complaint against him.

Loughry has since been arrested by federal authorities and will stand trial for 22 counts of fraud, witness tampering, and lying to federal investigators.

The impeachment articles allege that the justices failed to effectively administer the West Virginia court system and abused public resources by using state vehicles for personal purposes or pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into lavish renovations of their chambers in the state capital.

In view of the impeachment, the court has rescheduled much of its fall docket, pushing cases scheduled for argument in September back until October.

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