With the now-significantly different versions of the omnibus education bill almost certainly headed for a showdown in a House-Senate conference committee, the most talked-about event of the week at the Capitol actually took place two miles west.
On Wednesday, former state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 24 months in federal prison on 10 federal charges, including mail fraud and wire fraud.
U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver also placed Loughry, 48, on three years supervisory release, fined him $10,000, and ordered him to pay $1,273 in restitution.
Loughry, who was elected to the high court in 2012 and resigned as a justice last November, was convicted October 12 on charges stemming from misuse of state vehicles and credit cards for personal travel, for lying to federal investigators about that travel, as well as about having a state-owned antique desk in his home, and for defrauding a legal institute by accepting a travel reimbursement when he had used a state vehicle for the trip.
Given that Loughry’s crimes were small in terms of dollars and cents, Copenhaver bumped up federal sentencing guidelines as much as possible, noting that Loughry had failed to show remorse, and had lied under oath at least seven times during his testimony at trial.
That included continuing to claim that he did not know the historic significant of a so-called “Cass Gilbert” antique desk that he had secretly moved to his house from the Capitol, despite testimony he was apprised as early as 2006 that the desk was part of the original furnishings of the Capitol.
That was also the year that Loughry, then a Supreme Court law clerk, first gained public notice with publication of “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide,” his compilation of political corruption throughout state history.
The irony that Loughry was sentenced to prison for the type of public corruption he had railed against in the book was not lost on Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.
“There ought to be a vigorous, good strong sentence when you engage in public corruption,” said Stuart, who said Copenhaver’s sentence was appropriate under the circumstances, and will be a step toward restoring public confidence in the judicial system.
Loughry’s sentencing marked the final chapter in a meteoric rise and fall, beginning with his improbable election to the Supreme Court in 2012. He became chief justice in January 2017, only to be replaced a year later as news reports of lavish and excessive court spending, and his procurement of Capitol furnishings for his personal use were coming to a head.
Ultimately, he was indicted in June 2018, convicted in October, and resigned from the court in November.
In the Legislature, impeachment proceedings for all sitting justices stretched from late summer into the fall, only to be halted by a court ruling that the Legislature had violated separation of powers and due process provisions of the state Constitution
At the Capitol, meanwhile, the omnibus education bill continued to dominate the 60-day regular session, as the House of Delegates met in marathon floor sessions Wednesday and Thursday to ultimately advance a version of the bill that is markedly different from what was passed in the Senate (SB451).
The House version eliminates or dramatically scales back some of the more controversial provisions of the Senate bill, eliminating Educational Savings Accounts, scaling back charter schools to a maximum of two schools, as well as eliminating several measures some considered retaliatory against teachers who took part in a nine-day walkout last year.
The House version also eliminates a non-severability clause that would have meant that if any portion of the legislation were overturned in court, the entire package – including pay raises for teachers – would be nullified.
Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, summed up the “watered-down” House version of the bill, saying, “We didn’t come up with a perfect bill. We didn’t come out with a bad bill, either. What I feel is, we came out with a fair bill.”
The bill passed the House by a significant 71-29 margin. It goes back to the Senate, which on Friday, opted not to take up the House message, with two Republican senators absent. (The bill originally passed the Senate on a narrow 18-16 margin.)
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the Senate will begin work Monday to attempt to reconcile the two versions of the legislation.
This column by Phil Kabler of the Charleston Gazette-Mail is made available to its members by the West Virginia Press Association.