CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum announced Wednesday that he plans to resign and retire two years before his term ends.
In a brief, handwritten letter to Gov. Jim Justice, Ketchum said he would step down effective July 27.
The letter was contained in a statement released by the Supreme Court. The statement gave no reason for the 75-year-old Ketchum’s retirement and said he would have no further comment.
The retirement comes at a time of turmoil for the court.
Justice Allen Loughry pleaded not guilty in federal court last month to multiple counts involving alleged fraud. He was suspended over allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain. A legislative committee is scheduled to resume hearings Thursday to decide whether impeachment proceedings are necessary. The committee has been given authority to investigate all five Supreme Court justices for evidence of impeachable offences.
A legislative audit in April found Ketchum ignored mandatory reporting guidelines for personal use of state-owned vehicles.
The audit report said the use of state-owned vehicles and mileage reimbursements should have been reported as taxable fringe benefits on Ketchum’s federal W-2 forms but were not. The report also said Ketchum used a state vehicle to drive to Virginia for personal golf trips and charged $203 in fuel purchases to the state.
The report said Ketchum repaid the state $1,664 for incorrect travel reimbursements. In a statement attached to the report, Ketchum said he had planned to pay any taxes due for use of the state car when he receives amended W-2s.
Ketchum was elected to a 12-year term as a Democrat in 2008.
“I will miss Justice Ketchum’s wit, insight, and diligence,” Justice Robin Davis said in the statement. “He worked long hours serving this Court and this state and did so with a true desire to serve the public. It is unfortunate.”
“We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Ketchum to step down from the Court,” state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said in a statement. “I believe we can begin the process of restoring the faith and trust of our citizens in the judicial branch.”
A special election will be held in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term.
“While it makes no excuse for his actions, Justice Ketchum has done the right thing by resigning today,” West Virginia Democratic Party chairwoman Belinda Biafore said in a statement.
A 22-count federal criminal indictment accuses Loughry of making personal use of a state vehicle and credit card, including trips to book signings and to visit family. It says Loughry also sought mileage reimbursements for trips even though he drove a state vehicle and used a government credit card for gas.
The indictment also accuses him of moving a leather couch and a historic, valuable desk from the Supreme Court office to his home during office renovations; and of lying to federal agents about his actions and trying to influence an employee’s testimony.
Loughry faces a maximum prison sentence of 395 years and up to $5.5 million in fines if convicted on all charges.
Loughry was suspended from the bench without pay last month after a state Judicial Investigation Commission filed a 32-count complaint with the court alleging he “made false statements with the deliberate attempt to deceive” concerning his involvement in the renovation of his office. The complaint also said he failed to tell other justices about a federal subpoena, and it contained the accusations about moving office furniture to his home and improperly using state vehicles.
Loughry was removed as chief justice in February after the other justices learned he had kept the federal subpoena secret.
A judicial hearing board last week placed the investigation commission’s complaint on hold until the criminal charges against Loughry are resolved.