A1 A1
Supreme Court won't intervene over WV justices

CHARLESTON — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will leave in place a court decision that derailed the impeachment trials of three West Virginia Supreme Court justices accused of corruption.

The case was one of a long list of those the Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t hear, and as is usual the high court made no comment in declining to take the case. Monday was the Supreme Court’s first day of arguments after its summer break.

The case the high court declined to review was a decision by five acting justices of West Virginia’s highest court who ruled last year that prosecuting then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman in the state Senate would violate the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

That ruling in Workman’s case was later applied to also halt impeachment proceedings against two other justices who have since left the court: Robin Davis and Allen Loughry. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted in federal court of felony fraud charges.

Workman said Monday she was “immensely gratified.”

“For my whole 30 years serving in the judicial branch, I have always tried to serve with integrity and honesty and fairness,” Workman said. “I have never had a negative mark on my ethical record and I’m glad to say that I still don’t.”

West Virginia House lawmakers had impeached the justices in 2018 over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

Workman contended the charge was invalid because it was based upon alleged violations of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct, which is constitutionally regulated by the Supreme Court. The temporary justices agreed, ruling that judicial appointments are regulated exclusively by the Supreme Court. The ruling halted the state Senate impeachment trials.

Workman remains on the court but is no longer chief justice. The current chief justice, Beth Walker, was also impeached by the House, but was cleared at her Senate trial, which took place before the acting justices’ ruling in Workman’s case.

Walker declined comment Monday.

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw has said the intent of the appeal was not to seek permission to restart impeachment proceedings but to correct legal errors in the decision of the temporary justices. Both Hanshaw and Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Monday they were disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court won’t review the case.

“We still firmly believe last year’s decision was deeply flawed, went far beyond the scope of what the Court was asked to consider, and establishes a precedent that could have significant unintended effects on the legislative branch in the years to come,” Hanshaw said.

He said other options will be considered that would “restore and clarify the proper powers guaranteed to each branch of government, including a potential constitutional amendment to expressly clarify each branch of government’s powers with regard to impeachments going forward.”

Loughry was sentenced in February to two years in prison. Justice Menis Ketchum retired in July 2018 before the House impeachment hearings. Ketchum pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card and was sentenced to probation.

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

Two Republican former lawmakers — ex-U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and former House Speaker Tim Armstead — 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.

State lawmakers and others have said public trust in the state’s court system was broken by the actions of Loughry and others. Voters in November 2018 approved a ballot measure allowing the GOP-led Legislature to decide each year whether to reduce the courts’ budget.

Six-week drought ends with nearly 3 inches of rain

HUNTINGTON — After 38 days, a statewide emergency declaration, and the start of one of the hottest Octobers on record, one of the region’s most brutal droughts ever is emphatically over.

More than 2 ¾ inches of rain fell in Huntington between Saturday and Monday afternoon, snapping a six-week dry spell stretching back to Aug. 28, according to the National Weather Service in Charleston. On Monday alone, 1.9 inches of rain fell on Huntington — a record for any Oct. 7 in the city.

The drought created one of the driest Septembers on record, with only 0.01 inches of precipitation falling during brief, spotty showers that month.

It also sparked the two single-hottest October days ever recorded in Huntington, NWS meteorologist Ray Young explained Monday. Both Oct. 1 and Oct. 3 saw afternoon high temperatures peak at 95 degrees — a new record for October in Huntington.

Steady rain and a welcome cold front greeted the entire Tri-State this week. Lake Vesuvius in Lawrence County recorded 2.63 inches of rain between Saturday and Monday, and just over 2 inches of rain was recorded in Cannonsburg, Kentucky. The most rain fell locally on Louisa, Kentucky, which received 3 inches during that time.

While August and September typically are the region’s driest months of the year, particularly high pressure stagnating over the region created the perfect conditions for an extended drought, Young explained. The high pressure system lingered, preventing moisture from moving in and setting the conditions for clear, cloudless days of unseasonable heat.

Last Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency across West Virginia in response. Outdoor burning has been banned by the governor’s office since Sept. 20.

The past weekend’s chilly rain doesn’t represent a total end to the heat, but it likely means a return to a typical, albeit fickle, October weather pattern, Young said.

“October is typically a see-saw pattern, and that’s what you’re going to start seeing again,” Young said. “Cold front to warm front to warm front — that’s typical of this month, and we’re now into a typical October instead of locked into that pattern (that caused the drought).”

The immediate forecast for Huntington is relatively steady with no more rain in sight. Tuesday will be cool and sunny with a high near 65 degrees, dipping to 52 degrees at night. Highs will creep up to the upper 70s and low 80s on Thursday though Friday before dropping back to the high 60s over the weekend. Sunday night’s overnight low is expected to drop to 43 degrees.

Man charged with manslaughter in what originally had been reported as suicide

HUNTINGTON — A Cabell County Grand Jury has indicted a man on a charge alleging manslaughter in a 2018 shooting death that was believed at the time to be a suicide.

David Jakob Moore was indicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter and wanton endangerment surrounding the May 9, 2018, shooting death of Steven Parker Weekley, 19, in the 800 block of 11th Avenue in Huntington.

The indictment was returned by the Cabell Grand Jury in August, but had remained sealed until recently.

Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial at the time said the shooting death was believed to be accidental.

Cabell County 911 received a call at about 2 a.m. that day advising a gun had been dropped and a person had a gunshot wound to the head. Weekley subsequently died of that injury.

Dial said Monday his investigators determined there was more to the story than what was originally reported and said the evidence will be presented at trial.

“That case came in as a suicide. We always investigate every death early to find out what exactly happened,” he said. “After a thorough investigation by our detective bureau and forensic unit, we completed our report and presented that to a grand jury and they returned the indictment we got.”

Moore will be arraigned on the charge later this week.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

New and improved fountain up and running

HUNTINGTON — After several months of unexpected delays, the fountain in Ritter Park has been reopened with newer capabilities.

The fountain can now be lit up with different colors and the water jet can be timed with various patterns, said Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District (GHPRD) Executive Director Kevin Brady.

The fountain closed for renovations at the beginning of March and was expected to be reopened by the end of May. However, after GHPRD crews began getting the fountain ready for the renovation, they realized it would need much more work than previously thought.

Brady said the bottom of the fountain was made of fiberglass that had developed a hole. Brady said it’s a surprise the old water jet was working at all. Crews with the Huntington Water Quality Board ran a camera through the fountain to determine where the hole originated.

Patching the hole and giving the fountain a new concrete base cost approximately $20,000 extra than the original $134,467 that was budgeted for the project, he said.

After that setback, Brady said there were more complications with contractors hired to complete the project. Cascade Fountains, in conjunction with the Fountain People, designed and built a completely new operating system for the fountain, which was constructed in 1999.

Brady said there initially was some confusion in communication between the contractors, who were fabricating parts in-house. Once those communication problems were fixed, the new operating system was delivered and installed.

The fountain officially came back online this weekend, just in time for high school students to take homecoming pictures there, Brady said. The fountain now has several new options, including light-up capabilities.

Brady said in the past the park district received requests to turn the fountain purple for pancreatic cancer awareness or pink for breast cancer awareness. Right now, they are testing it by setting the color to green in honor of Marshall University.

The fountain also has a couple of settings to control water jets that can spray out different patterns. It’s not quite like Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, but the Ritter Park fountain’s jets can still do several programmable maneuvers, Brady said.

Brady said park guests may witness some of these programs while GHPRD staff experiment with the settings over the next few weeks.