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West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum to retire, resign from court

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announces that state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is retiring and resigning from the court effective July 27. (West Virginia Supreme Court)

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is retiring and resigning from the court effective July 27, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday.

Ketchum’s retirement comes on the heels of a special session of the state Legislature, which is considering possible impeachment proceedings against justices on the Supreme Court.

West Virginia’s highest court has been rocked by controversy. Suspended Justice Allen Loughry is facing 22 federal charges, with 16 counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, one count of witness tampering and three counts of making false statements to a federal agent. Loughry has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judicial panel also claimed that Loughry violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

With the resignation of Ketchum and the suspension of Loughry, it will leave the state Supreme Court with three active justices, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker.

Justice said he received a letter from Ketchum announcing his resignation.

“I have directed my general counsel to provide the necessary documentation to the Judicial Vacancy Commission and other state agencies as may be appropriate to fill this vacancy created by Justice Ketchum’s resignation,” Justice said in a news release.

A news release from the state Supreme Court included the two-sentence letter that Ketchum wrote to the governor.

"I have decided to retire and relinquish my office as a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. My retirement is effective at the close of the business day on Friday, July 27," Ketchum said.

Ketchum said he would have no further comment.

Justices Workman, Davis and Walker all had statements in the news release about Ketchum's resignation.

"Justice Ketchum has brought a great work ethic and strong intellect to his work on the court, as well as fairness and compassion for people whose cases we hear. He will be missed both personally and professionally," Workman said.

Davis said she will miss Ketchum's "wit, insight and diligence. He worked long hours serving this court and this state and did so with a true desire to serve the public. It is unfortunate."

Walker said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Ketchum "who always took the time to mentor me as a new justice. He set a great example with his commitment to fairness and the rule of law. I will miss him."

Justice also sent a letter to Ketchum acknowledging his resignation and retirement and thanked him, on behalf of the people of West Virginia, for his public service during his tenure on the state Supreme Court.

The West Virginia Democratic Party weighed in on Ketchum's resignation with a statement.

"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. "There is something to be said about taking responsibility and swift action instead of allowing taxpayer money and time to be wasted on the arrogance of someone who thinks they are above the law. With Ketchum's resignation today and impeachment proceedings beginning tomorrow, it should be certain that the process will be completed in enough time for the people of West Virginia to choose in November and not have that decision made for them."

Ketchum has been embroiled in controversy along with the other justices over questionable Supreme Court spending in which a $900,000 renovation project ballooned to more than $3.7 million, which included a sectional sofa with a price tag of nearly $32,000.

Ketchum also was mentioned in a legislative audit report for driving state vehicles for his personal use.

For several years, Ketchum used a state-owned Buick to make the commute from his Huntington home to the court in Charleston.

Auditors also cited instances where Ketchum used the vehicle to travel out of state and play golf. Auditors reached the conclusion that Ketchum should have reported his personal use of a state vehicle on his tax returns. The justice amended his W-2 forms to reflect his personal vehicle usage and reimbursed the state more than $1,600 for improperly received travel expense money. He stopped commuting to work in the state vehicle in June 2016.

A November 2017 iTeam investigation also discovered that Ketchum received a grandfather clock from the court and did not immediately pay for the clock. In 2010, the clock was being moved out of the court's main conference room when it caught Ketchum’s eye.

The Howard Miller floor clock, model number 610-995, was purchased with taxpayer dollars in the 1990s by former Supreme Court justice Larry Starcher for about $2,500.

Ketchum said then-court administrator Steve Canterbury quoted a price of $750. The justice agreed, and the clock was delivered to Ketchum's Huntington home.

That was all that was said about the timepiece for nearly a decade until it came up in November 2017 during a meeting of the justices.

A search through his personal financial records did not locate any documents supporting his 2010 purchase of the clock, Ketchum said. He said he obviously forgot to pay for it.

Ketchum and his wife researched how much the clock, which is no longer being produced, is worth. He came up with $1,100 to $1,200, prompting him to write a check for $2,000 to pay for it.

The practice of former justices buying pieces of their office furniture as they leave office is a good one, Ketchum said, as long as they pay fair market value for the merchandise.

Ketchum said he regrets his mistake of not paying for the clock when it was delivered to his home in 2010. He said he has done his best, however, to rectify the situation. He said he settled on paying $2,000 for the clock because of the prices he found on several websites plus the cost of shipping if he had ordered a timepiece and had it shipped to his home.

On Nov. 4, 2008, Ketchum was elected to a full 12-year term on the Supreme Court. He served as chief justice in 2012 and 2016, according to biographical information on the court’s website.

A native of Huntington, he was raised in Wayne County and received his law degree from the West Virginia University College of Law.

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