One day before West Virginia lawmakers start considering whether some state Supreme Court justices deserve to be impeached, Justice Menis Ketchum retired from his seat on the court, with more than two years left in his term.
Ketchum faxed his two-sentence resignation letter, handwritten on Supreme Court stationery, to Gov. Jim Justice. The letter reads: “I have decided to retire [and] relinquish my office as a Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. My retirement is effective at the close of the business day on Friday, July 27, 2018.” It is signed, “Respectfully yours, Menis E. Ketchum.”
Members of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee are scheduled to begin considering impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court justices Thursday morning.
The justice whose name was most associated with those proceedings is Allen Loughry, who was indicted last month on federal criminal charges of fraud, lying to investigators and witness tampering, as well as charged with 32 violations of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct. But the House resolution starting the impeachment process, although it mentioned the charges against Loughry, did not say which justices the process might involve.
Ketchum, 75, faces no criminal charges nor formal allegations of ethical violations.
In a report to legislators earlier this year, legislative auditors noted that Ketchum had used a state-owned vehicle between 2012 and 2016, sometimes apparently for personal trips. He reimbursed the state more than $1,700 for golf trips and also paid $2,000 to the state for a grandfather clock that he had in his home that belonged to the state. That report came after months of reports of lavish spending at the Supreme Court, and of justices using state resources for personal use.
“We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Ketchum to step down from the Court,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said in a statement Wednesday. “I believe we can begin the process of restoring the faith and trust of our citizens in the judicial branch.”
House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, urged Loughry to resign as well as Ketchum. He said in a statement that West Virginians have lost faith in the integrity of the judicial system.
“The abuse of power and the misuse of taxpayer dollars in our state’s highest court is sickening—and Justice Ketchum has played an active role in this corruption,” Caputo said. “Justice Ketchum has taken advantage of his position in the Supreme Court, and in doing so he has taken advantage of the West Virginia voters who elected him.”
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Between Ketchum’s retirement and Loughry’s suspension after the federal charges were filed against him, the court now has three justices to hear cases: Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker.
The governor said in his news release that he had “directed my general counsel to provide the necessary documentation to the Judicial Vacancy Commission and other state agencies as may be appropriate to fill this vacancy created by Justice Ketchum’s resignation.” When a judge leaves the bench, the commission usually meets to determine a timeline for candidates to apply for the job, then interviews applicants and gives the governor recommendations as to who he should appoint to fill the spot temporarily.
However, there is an election in November, and the court could get by with temporary replacements for Ketchum until voters pick a judge to serve out the remaining two years of Ketchum’s term.
Ketchum was elected to the Supreme Court in 2008 in a hotly contested race in the Democratic primary. He and Workman, now the court’s chief justice, prevailed in the Democratic primary against incumbent Elliot “Spike” Maynard. In that race, Maynard faced questions about photos that showed him on vacation in Monaco with then-Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship, at a time when the Supreme Court was considering a multimillion-dollar verdict against Massey.
Ketchum and Workman then defeated Walker, a Republican, in the general election for the two open seats. Walker was elected to the court in 2016, after West Virginia’s judicial elections were made non-partisan on the ballot.
Ketchum was sworn-in during a ceremony on Dec. 18, 2008. Michael Thornsbury, then Mingo County’s circuit judge and described as “a longtime friend” of Ketchum, administered the oath of office. Thornsbury pleaded guilty to a federal charge in 2013, resigned his judgeship and went to prison.
A native of Huntington, Ketchum graduated from Vinson High School in northern Wayne County.
He attended Ohio University and played on the school’s baseball team, where he was part of the 1964 Mid-American Conference Championship team, according to his biography on the West Virginia Supreme Court website.
Ketchum earned his law degree from West Virginia University College of Law, where he was a contributing writer and associate editor for the West Virginia Law Review.
After law school, Ketchum returned to Huntington to join his father’s law firm, Greene, Ketchum & Baker, now known as Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel LLP. He practiced at that firm until he was elected to the Supreme Court. His son, Menis E. “Bert” Ketchum III, is still a member of the firm.