CHARLES TOWN – Statewide, West Virginians picked former Republican House speaker Tim Armstead and former Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins to continue on the state Supreme Court, but the pair did not win with voters here.
Jefferson County voters instead backed Christopher Wilkes, the 23rd circuit court judge who lives in Berkeley County, for the Division One seat, with Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit finishing second. In Division Two, Charleston lawyer Denisse Smith – the only woman in that race – garnered the most votes in Jefferson.
Wilkes captured 10,796 votes (59.7 percent) with Tabit finishing with 3,094 (17.11 percent). Armstead finished next with 1,502 votes or 8.31 percent.
In the Division 2 race, Smith had 5,097 votes (30.56 percent) with Jenkins getting 2,350 (14.09 percent). All the other candidates had less than 10 percent of the vote each.
Gov. Jim Justice appointed Jenkins and Armstead in August to interim jobs on the high court. Now they will complete the unexpired terms of former justices caught up in a court spending scandal.
In the latest Supreme Court news, Allen Loughry – the suspended justice convicted on federal charges last month – resigned from the court effective Monday.
Loughry’s letter to Justice, written on Friday, came after the governor issued a call for a special legislative session. Lawmakers were set to return to Charleston this week to formally consider ousting Loughry from the court.
Judicial elections in West Virginia have been nonpartisan since 2016, but the court’s turmoil has raised questions with some Democrats calling the shakeup a power grab by the Republican-led legislature.
With Loughry’s resignation, Justice will have another opportunity to appoint a justice to the court.
Loughry, a Tucker County native who wrote a book on West Virginia’s culture of political corruption, was suspended from the bench on June 8 following a scandal that began last year when Charleston TV reporter Kennie Bass began reporting on the state court’s spending to redecorate their offices.
Bass reported that Loughry spent $32,000 in state money on a sectional couch for his court office – he had it custom recovered in blue suede – and had state workers move a state-owned desk that once belonged to Capitol architect Cass Gilbert to Loughry’s home.
Following an investigation, a federal jury found Loughry of seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of making false statements to federal investigators and one count each of witness tampering and mail fraud. He was acquitted of nine counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.
Loughry has asked for a new criminal trial, although the motion was sealed so the grounds for that request are not public.
Loughry’s wire fraud convictions centered on his use of state vehicles and credit cards for weekend and holiday travel and to book signing events at The Greenbrier, according to evidence presented during his trial.
One of his convictions for making false statements found that Loughry lied to investigators about using the vehicles and credit cards for personal business.
He’s set to be sentenced Jan. 16. Days before that, the state Judicial Investigation Commission will hold a disciplinary hearing on whether to strip him of his law license.
In last week’s election, Armstead was picked to complete the term of retired Justice Menis Ketchum. It runs through 2020.
Jenkins was among 10 candidates who competed to replace Justice Robin Davis, whose term runs through 2024.
Besides the two circuit judges, candidates running against Armstead included attorneys Harry Bruner Jr., Robert Carlton, Ronald Hatfield, Mark Hunt, Hiram Lewis IV, D.C. Offutt Jr. and Jeff Woods.
Jenkins beat Smith – a Fayette County native who earned her undergrad and law degrees from West Virginia University – as well as Democratic former state Senate President Jeff Kessler, Circuit Judge Will Thompson, family court Judge Jim Douglas and attorneys Robert J. Frank, Brenden Long, Jim O’Brien, Marty Sheehan and William Schwartz.
– the Associated Press contributed to this report