CHARLESTON, W. Va. – A retired West Virginia Supreme Court justice pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony count of fraud related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card in a scandal that has led to pending impeachment trials for the three remaining justices.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced Menis Ketchum’s agreement to plead guilty to the charge soon after the 75-year-old justice retired in July. Ketchum entered his plea Thursday morning at the federal courthouse in Charleston.
According to court documents, Ketchum improperly used the card to purchase fuel for a golf trip. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Dec. 6.
In the meantime, the former jurist has been released on a $250,000 personal recognizance bond
During an hour-long hearing before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, Ketchum acknowledged using a state-owned Buick Lucerne to take a golf trip to Bristol, Virginia in August 2014. He said he charged a total $220 to the card after leaving his home in Huntington, West Virginia and during his return trip.
A native of Wayne County, Ketchum was admitted to the state Bar on May 15, 1967. From 1980 until his election to the Court in 2008, he was a partner in the Huntington law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Bailey and Tweel.
He resigned last month as the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him and the other four justices for misuse of funds allotted for renovations of their offices in the east wing of the state Capitol.
The four other justices were impeached last week by the House of Delegates. Justice Robin Davis retired hours later. She and Justices Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker now face trial in the Senate.
During Ketchum’s plea hearing, the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission met to interview nine attorneys as a potential replacement until Dec.31. The applicants included House Speaker Tim Armsted, R-Kanawha, and Evan Jenkins, an incumbent congressman.
Both have announced their intention to run for Ketchum’s unexpired term through 2020. A special election for both Ketchum’s, and Davis’ seats will occur in November.
The commission has not said when it will forward Governor Jim Justice its recommendation for an interim appointment to fill Ketchum’s vacancy.
The Court is scheduled to convene for its 2018-19 term on September 5. The impeachment trial for the remaining justices in the state Senate begins the following week.