Morsels Of Truth
Thursday, July 19.
This morning I had the distinct pleasure of attending a session of the WV House of Delegates Supreme Court Impeachment Hearings. Unfortunately, there’s no punchline to that set up.
I went because I am a voter in West Virginia. In West Virginia we get to elect our Supreme Court justices. There is an election in November. If Supreme Court Chief Justice Loughry is impeached by Aug. 13, then West Virginia voters get to decide in the November election who will replace him. If Loughry is not impeached by Aug. 13, then his seat will be filled for two years by a judge appointed by Gov. Justice.
There is a suspicion that the House is dragging out the impeachment hearings so that a judge favorable to the current administration can be placed on the bench, instead of letting voters decide on who we want to represent us.
In the late 2017 Chief Justice Loughry came under scrutiny for various shenanigans. Laughry used to be a Democrat but after becoming a specialist in political corruption (he literally wrote a book on the topic) decided to become a Republican and run for the Supreme Court. In January of 2018 Del. Mike Puskin, a Democrat (who is still a Democrat), pushed for a resolution to start impeachment hearings against Laughry. The Republican controlled House squashed that maneuver. Later in January, Tim Armstead, a lawyer and the top Republican in the House of Delegates (who is still a Republican), announced that he would not run for reelection to the House again. This was a huge surprise.
Then Armstead started supporting whatever Governor Justice, who used to be a Democrat but became a Republican, wanted in the legislative session. This was a sharp departure from Armstead’s many criticisms of Governor Justice when Justice was a Democrat during the 2017 election. At that point, observers were no longer so surprised at Armstead’s decision not to run for re-election, sensing a back room deal in the making.
Oh, and did I mention that if the House of Delegates, now led by Tim Armstead, does not impeach Loughry by August 13, the Governor gets to appoint who will fill his seat? In case I’m being too subtle, I’ll spell it out- Armstead may be trying to circumvent the election process and have himself appointed to fill Laughry’s seat.
If the House is slow rolling the impeachment they are doing it to deny you the opportunity to vote. That is clear and simple voter suppression.
Two witnesses were scheduled for this morning. The first was the Deputy Director of Security for the Supreme Court. I believe his name is Jess Gundy. I don’t know who the second witness was because he or she was not called this morning. There wasn’t time because the delegates used three hours to question Gundy.
The session began with this guy who I think was called Staff Counsel. He asked Mr. Gundy questions for a good long time. These questions started out simple. Like on any lawyer TV show. Did you or do you know Justice Loughry? How do you know him?
Let me summarize the depth and insight of what felt like hours of questions/answers by quoting one small segment. Counsel Guy was trying to establish if Loughry had a home office. He asked Gundy if there was a home office.
Gundy: There was a small office.
Counsel Guy: Can you describe the office?
Gundy: It was small.
There were ten basic questions in the three hour session.
Did Loughry have the Cass Gilbert Desk in his house?
Did he have the couch in question?
Were the couch and desk in the same room?
Did Loughry have keys to three state cars?
Is it true Loughry borrowed the state cars for long periods of time over weekends and holidays?
Is it true Loughry got testy if he was asked what he was doing with the cars or where was he going?
Did Mr. Gundy feel Chief Justice Loughry contributed to negative work environment?
Did Chief Justice Loughry fire a bunch of people?
Did Mr. Gundy feel he might get fired if he refused to help Laughry move state owned furniture from Laughry’s house to a state warehouse?
Did Mr. Gundy feel he might be fired if he pressed Laughry on the private use of state owned cars?
The answer to all of these questions was Yes. Yes. Yes.
The Counsel Guy asked variations of these questions for a long, long time. After that, the person in charge let the delegates ask questions. The delegates proceeded to ask variations on the exact same questions. Then Counsel Guy got up and asked follow-up questions after the delegates. The follow-up questions revolved around- you guessed it – the same batch of questions. Then the people at the big desk asked the same questions. Then the delegates got to ask follow-up questions. The follow-up questions related to the basic ten questions.
A couple of other issues were discussed, such as the termination of Steve Canterbury, driving justices around, threats, and where the Supreme Court parks their cars. For the most part, the same questions were asked over and over and over again for three solid hours.
One deviation was when Mr. Gundy was asked how employees felt about being terminated by Loughry.
Mr. Gundy, who kept his cool the whole time, answered, “Well, I don’t know anybody who likes getting terminated.”
Only two things were not definitively established. The first is whether Supreme Court cars go “vroooom, vrooooom” or “putter, putter, putter,” when you press the go pedal. The second, and most critical issue left unanswered is, “Do the wheels on cars go round and round, round and round, all over town?”
Is one side stalling the process so that you don’t get a say on Supreme Court candidates? That’s what I went to find out. However, I was greatly disappointed to discover that the delegates do not wear team jerseys emblazoned with the logos of their personal sponsors. It was nearly impossible to tell the Democrats from the Republicans just by looking at the backs of their heads. However, the committee seems to have 25 members. Sixteen are Republicans, six are Democrats.
The questioning of the second witness that was supposed to be done this morning was postponed until this afternoon because the questioning of Gundy took so long. The committee had two witnesses to question this afternoon. If they don’t get through all three today, I guess one or more will be moved to tomorrow. Which will throw tomorrow’s schedule off. Which I guess would mean someone has to wait until Monday. So that’s three days closer to the deadline for you to be able to vote on a justice.
For more WVStrong.Org Coverage of the WV Supreme Court Impeachment story, check out Dan Heyman's Slowrolling Impeachment.
Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller and a PEN Award winning author. To see more of Bil's WV Strong content click here.