The Curious Case of the $32,000聽Couch聽

Mal路ad路min路is路tra路tion 鈥斅n. (formal)聽: inefficient or dishonest administration; mismanagement.

In 2006, while serving as a law clerk for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, Allen H. Loughry authored a book titled,聽Don鈥檛 Buy Another Vote, I Won鈥檛 Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid And Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.

Six years later, he was elected by the people of West Virginia as a justice on the same court, and on January 1, 2017, he became Chief Justice.

On June 20, 2018, Loughry was impeached by the West Virginia House for mind-boggling corruption of his own. Today, he is 鈥渓iving history鈥 鈥 facing impeachment and up to 390 years in prison.

However, this was only the beginning of the truly聽continuing聽history of political corruption in West Virginia鈥檚 Supreme Court. What began with a revelation of Loughry鈥檚 excessive spending on an office remodel 鈥 including the purchase of a $32,000 couch 鈥 implicated all five of the standing members of the Mountain State鈥檚 highest court. Now, three of them face impeachment trials, while the other two resigned to avoid the ugly proceedings into their potentially criminal 鈥渕aladministration.鈥

The majority of the charges revolve around lavish spending on their offices 鈥 partly a product of the lack of oversight on judicial budgets in West Virginia. Laurie Lin (@WVPundette), a columnist for West Virginia鈥檚 Charleston Gazette-Mail and former attorney, has been following the story carefully. Earlier this month, she recapped the depressing yet almost comical saga in a teleforum hosted by聽The Federalist Society, and fielded questions on the political implications of such a blatant abuse of power.

It鈥檚 easy to blame judicial elections for such widespread corruption.聽We know that voters are largely ignorant. Furthermore, elections could create incentives for judges to favor those who give to their campaigns. But in this case, the maladministration seems to have simply come from a unique culture of corruption within the courthouse 鈥 specifically around office expenditures. In addition to the infamous $32,000 sofa, one justice had renovated her office with a tacky Egyptian theme, meaning that her successor had to spend significant sums just to restore it to something normal. This quickly snowballed into a culture of personalizing offices to an absurd degree.

Now, Governor Jim Justice is replacing the justices who resigned with temporary appointees 鈥 both from his own party (Republican) 鈥 and Democrats in the House are calling foul play. While this story may seem beyond odd to outsiders of West Virginia politics, it comes as little surprise to the state鈥檚 residents. Wikipedia provides some helpful pretext for West Virginia鈥檚 political bizarro world:

鈥淚n 2015, Justice switched from the聽Republican Party聽to the聽Democratic Party聽and announced his candidacy for Governor in the聽2016 election. He ran as a Democrat and defeated the Republican nominee,聽Bill Cole. Less than seven months after taking office, Justice switched back to the Republican Party the day after announcing his plans at a聽PresidentTrump聽rally in the state.鈥
鈥 Wikipedia page for聽Jim Justice

Soon enough, the voters of West Virginia will have a chance to elect new judges to the two to five vacant seats that will be left in the wake of the judicial crisis. They鈥檝e already repealed the part of the constitution that enables the judiciary to get away with unaccountable spending on couches, Egyptian-themed offices, and the like. But a broader debate remains over the merits of electing judges versus appointing them, under a system sometimes known as merit selection.

Laurie Lin joined the show to break down this amusing true tale of corruption,聽treachery, and political intrigue.