Supreme Court must stay clean

West Virginia Supreme Court justices have new policies on travel, state assets, use of purchasing cards and accounting safeguards. They seem to have covered all the bases but two: arrogance and devious dishonesty.

Three of the five people who sat on the court a year ago are gone. One has pleaded guilty to federal charges. Another was convicted. The third resigned before state senators could try her on impeachment accusations.

A reconstituted high court, including two justices elected last fall and another appointed by the governor, seems committed to avoiding abuses that led to last year’s upheaval.

Among allegations leveled by the House of Delegates against all five justices sitting last year was that they had failed to establish policies intended to prevent waste of taxpayers’ money and outright fraud. New rules adopted by the court are in response to that criticism.

In explaining them to state legislators, Chief Justice Elizabeth Walker sounded contrite. “We’re working as a team, the five of us, to earn your trust, the public’s trust and to restore the confidence and integrity of the court system,” she told lawmakers.

Indeed, the new policies cover many of the problems that were brought to light last year. For example, one on state-owned computers specifies they are not to be used for employees’ and justices’ personal purposes. One of the accusations involving former Justice Allen Loughry, who is awaiting sentencing on federal charges, was that he took a court-owned computer home and allowed family members to use it for personal tasks.

There are other specifics, including one banning use of state vehicles for personal trips.

But that very rule illustrates the difficulty. Why should an official or employee of government need to be told state vehicles are only for official use?

It is difficult to believe Loughry and the former Justice Menis Ketchum, who pleaded guilty to federal charges, did not understand what they were doing was wrong.

Clearly, both thought — perhaps because they were justices of the highest court in the state — that they could get away with their misdeeds.

Good for Justices Walker, Margaret Workman, Tim Armstead, Evan Jenkins and John Hutchison for establishing the new rules. They will help.

But they are not guarantees. Only the watchful eyes of lawmakers, the public, the press and, perhaps most important, court employees encouraged to be whistleblowers if the need arises, can guard against corruption.

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