Ex-W.Va. Supreme Court justice gets 2 years for corruption

Ex-W.Va. Supreme Court justice gets 2 years for corruption
5 years 5 months 1 week ago Wednesday, February 13 2019 Feb 13, 2019 February 13, 2019 5:03 PM February 13, 2019 in News - AP National

Associated Press

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 and corruption scandal was sentenced to two years in federal prison Wednesday.

"I have not seen evidence of remorse," U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. told former justice Allen Loughry in sentencing him for using his job for his own benefit and lying to investigators.

Loughry also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and more than $2,200 in restitution and court costs.

His lawyer, John Carr, asked the court for probation and said Loughry has agreed to surrender his law license and not seek public office again.

Copenhaver said he wanted a sentence length "that promotes respect for the law. The public needs protection from further criminal conduct on your part."

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.

State lawmakers and others have said public trust in the state's court system was broken by the actions of Loughry and others, and Copenhaver said he recognized "the strong public concern in this matter."

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart called the sentence fair.

"It's a day where we begin to retrieve that confidence in the Supreme Court," Stuart said. We've been working toward that end. I look at this as a decision of renewal for the people of West Virginia."

Carr and Loughry declined comment on the sentence.

In court, Loughry said, "I am fully aware of the seriousness of this matter" and "I do not wish to minimize or trivialize any of this. This situation has changed my life forever."

Loughry was told to report to prison April 5. He 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. Copenhaver last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said Loughry lied on seven occasions during the 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 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 appeared about those items.

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.

A week later a temporary panel of justices ruled the impeachment efforts violated 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.

Copenhaver said that while Loughry alone was not responsible for the Supreme Court's scandal, his "conduct has contributed mightily to it."

Davis and Justice Menis Ketchum retired last summer. Ketchum 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 in the place of Ketchum and Davis and later won election to complete their terms. Republican Gov. Jim Justice appointed a lifelong friend to replace Loughry until a 2020 special election.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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