Supreme Court scandal highlights need to improve trust in the judiciary

Transparency of political spending in judicial elections is part of the solution

(Charleston, WV) A coalition of organizations working to increase accountability and transparency in West Virginia elections says the recent Supreme Court spending scandal and charges against Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry are an opportunity to implement reforms to improve confidence in both the judicial system and the electoral process.

“The suspension of Justice Loughry without pay while the charges against him are further investigated is a positive first step, and he should be disciplined to the fullest extent of the law if found guilty. Unfortunately, the public’s trust in the judiciary is already shaken, and rebuilding that trust won’t end with the resignation of one individual,” says Julie Archer, Coordinator of WV Citizens for Clean Elections.

“West Virginians are rightly furious over Justice Loughry’s behavior, but we know they are also worried about another threat to public trust in the judiciary — the secret special-interest money in judicial elections. In both cases, transparency has to be a part of the solution. To begin to rebuild trust in the West Virginia judiciary and the electoral process, we must shed light on the money that is being spent behind voters’ backs. Bringing transparency to the judicial budgeting process is clearly a part of this, but legislators should seize this opportunity to bring disclosure to the secret money being spent to influence our votes.”

Archer pointed out that West Virginia implemented significant reforms in response to prior scandals involving the court, which included the creation of a judicial public financing program so that state Supreme Court candidates wouldn’t have to rely on support from lawyers and special interest contributors who frequently have cases before the court.

“With confidence in the ethics and standards of our judges at an all-time low, now more than ever we need to demand that all judges who run for election use this system that stands as a model for states across the country. The goal of the program is to maintain the integrity of, and improve confidence in both the judicial system and the electoral process—and that is exactly what West Virginia needs right now.”

Next week, WV Citizens for Clean Elections is hosting a free workshop on the role of the courts in protecting our democracy and our fundamental rights. The event will feature interactive discussions and presentations on threats to judicial independence, and actions to strengthen and protect the fairness and impartiality of our courts. An experienced judge, other legal experts, and good government advocates will be in attendance to help community members learn more about this important and often overlooked branch of government.

“We were planning this event focused on improving our judiciary well before the news broke regarding the charges against Justice Loughry, however, addressing this particular scandal must involve a wider discussion on how to bring greater trust, accountability, and transparency to the judiciary,” says Archer. “West Virginians need to learn about our courts and how they protect our rights as voters, parents, workers, consumers and small business owners.  It is imperative that we protect the independence of the judiciary and ensure that our courts are fair and impartial.”

The workshop will be held Monday, June 18 in Charleston at the Four Points Sheraton and participants have their choice of attending either an afternoon session starting at 1 p.m., or an evening session starting at 5:30 p.m. The workshop is free and includes an appetizer buffet reception from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m., however, attendees are asked to register in advance at faircourts101.eventbrite.com.

Contact: Julie Archer, Coordinator, WV Citizens for Clean Elections, (304) 346-5891

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