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After Impeachment Trial, West Virginia Justice to Become Chief of State Supreme Court

Beth Walker, 53, will be the court's third chief justice in one year. She will take the post Jan. 1, 2019, April Harless, deputy public information officer for the Supreme Court, said in a news release Monday.

By Lacie Pierson

Beth Walker, who was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court two years ago and was impeached by the House of Delegates and censured by the state Senate earlier this year, will become chief justice of the court next year.

Walker, 53, will be the court's third chief justice in one year. She will take the post Jan. 1, 2019, April Harless, deputy public information officer for the Supreme Court, said in a news release Monday.

"I am honored by the trust placed in me by my fellow justices, and I thank Chief Justice [Margaret] Workman for her leadership in recent months," Walker said in the news release. "My commitment to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch is unwavering, and I am ready to work with the Legislature toward better oversight of the court's budget."

The chief justice is selected by a vote of the five justices. The court traditionally elects a new chief justice to preside from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of each year.

The court broke that tradition in 2017, when justices voted to allow Allen Loughry to serve a four-year chief justice term, which would have kept him in the position until 2020.

Loughry was chief justice from Jan. 1, 2017, until February of this year, when justices voted to replace him with Workman after learning that he failed to notify them of a federal subpoena issued to the court in December 2017.

In the news release Monday, Workman said Walker is "a hard worker."

"I think she will do an excellent good job," Workman said in the news release.

Loughry was convicted earlier this month of 11 federal charges and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 16, 2019.

Walker, Workman, Loughry and former justice Robin Davis were impeached by the state House of Delegates earlier this year. Justice Menis Ketchum announced his resignation July 12, the day before impeachment hearings began in the House, and he pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge on Aug. 23.

After a brief trial in the Senate this month, Walker was censured, but not removed from office. Senate trials for Workman, Loughry and Davis (who resigned after the House impeached her) have been put on hold after the Supreme Court, made up of temporary justices, ruled that there were problems with the impeachment process that violated due process.

During her impeachment trial on Oct. 1, Walker testified that there initially was a 2-2 deadlock between her and Workman for the chief justice position when the justices voted to oust Loughry in February. A subsequent vote ended with three votes for Workman and one for Walker. Loughry voted for himself in both votes, Walker testified.

Walker ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court as a Republican in 2008. She ran again in 2016 and claimed a seat on the bench, besting incumbent justice Brent Benjamin, former state attorney general Darrell McGraw and others. In that race, she was endorsed by Republican officeholders and described herself as a conservative judicial candidate.

One of her first rulings as a justice was a highly unusual decision to reopen and vote to reverse a case that would have forced natural gas drillers to pay more in profits to residents. Loughry and Ketchum voted with her to reopen and reverse that case. At the time, Walker's husband owned stock in a variety of energy companies, including those taking part in the state's natural gas boom.

Walker grew up in Huron, Ohio, on the banks of Lake Erie. She earned a bachelor's degree from Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan, and a law degree from Ohio State University, according to her court biography.

Walker practiced at the Charleston law firm Bowles Rice beginning in the early 1990s, and she moved to Morgantown in 2011, when she became associate general counsel for WVU Medicine. She worked in that capacity until West Virginia voters elected her to the court in 2016.

(c)2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

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