Ex-West Virginia Supreme Court justice set for sentencing

Posted at 1:38 AM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 01:38:09-05

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his office and was at the center of an impeachment scandal is due in federal court for sentencing for using his job for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Loughry was found guilty of 11 of the 22 charges at his October trial. Most of the charges involved mail and wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The judge last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range of 15 to 21 months along with a fine between $7,500 and $75,000.

In a memorandum Monday, prosecutors said Loughry had an "unbridled arrogance" as a Supreme Court justice. They said Loughry's testimony exposed him as a liar and he has shown no remorse for his conduct.

"Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public's confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law," the memorandum said.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state, was removed as chief justice last February. He was then suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.

At trial, Loughry denied he benefited personally from trips he took when he became a justice in 2013. He said he used state-owned vehicles made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records showed Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and "loads it up with Christmas presents" to visit relatives. A neighbor testified she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

Loughry also was convicted of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of a $42,000 state-owned desk that he had transferred to his home. He returned the desk and a green leather couch owned by the state after media reports about it.

Loughry repeatedly denied involvement in renovations to his office, which cost $353,000 and included the blue suede couch and a $7,500 wood-inlay floor map of West Virginia. He blamed the spending on former court administrator Steve Canterbury, whom he fired in January 2017.

But a state Judicial Investigation Commission complaint said Supreme Court records show Loughry had a significant role in the renovations.

Loughry and justices Margaret Workman, Robin Davis and Beth Walker were impeached in August over questions involving the lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. Some of the justices were accused of abusing their authority by failing to rein in excessive spending.

Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge at her Senate trial in October and is now chief justice.

A week later a temporary panel of justices ruled that the impeachment efforts were a violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine and that the Legislature lacked jurisdiction to pursue the trials. The process was officially derailed when the presiding judge didn't show up to Workman's Senate trial because of the decision.

The House of Delegates has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state court's decision.

Workman remains on the Supreme Court. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Justice Menis Ketchum retired in July before the House impeachment hearings. He pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card. He faces sentencing later this month.

Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016, but the court's impeachment scandal stirred political attacks. Some Democrats argued the court's shake-up was a power grab by Republicans.

Two Republican former lawmakers were appointed to the court after the scandal broke and won election in November to complete the terms of Ketchum and Davis. Republican Gov. Jim Justice appointed a lifelong friend to replace Loughry until a 2020 special election.