A member of the West Virginia House of Delegates has filed suit against Gov. Jim Justice over a provision in the state constitution requiring the governor to reside in the state capital.
Del. Isaac Sponaugle, a Democrat, filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court stating that Gov. Justice has not lived in Charleston or conducted the business of his office in the state’s capital.
Section I, Article VII of the West Virginia Constitution says that the governor -- as well as elected constitutional officers of the state’s government, including the attorney general, the auditor, the treasurer, the secretary of state and the commissioner of agriculture -- “shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.”
The seat of the state’s government is Charleston.
Sponaugle’s suit -- calling for a “writ of mandamus” be issued that will force Justice to meet the constitutional residency requirement -- states that the governor “has not resided at the seat of government for more than 10 days from January 16, 2017” through the date of the petition, which is dated Tuesday, June 19.
At a news conference last week, Justice gave no indication of plans to move to Charleston. He also listed accomplishments since taking office in defending where he conducts business and resides.
Asked about the legalities of the decision to not stay at the Governor's Mansion, Justice referred the question to his general counsel, Brian Abraham.
“There’s domicile and there’s residence. That mansion there, this man right there has furniture in there -- it stays there," Abraham said last week. "If he wants to go back to his home in Lewisburg -- I know prior governors went back to their homes on weekends and evenings. I’ll tell you, I think he declared this his domicile.”
In regard to where Justice conducts his business as governor, Sponagule’s suit states that Justice himself said at that same news conference, “It does not matter whether I do it in the back of a Suburban or from the top of the dome.”
Additional documents from the filing show that, as part of the discovery process, Sponaugle is asking Justice to admit he does not reside at the Governor’s Mansion and does not plan to do so. Other requests include questions about how many nights Justice has spent at the Governor’s Mansion and how many days he has physically spent at the state capitol.
Justice issued a news release responding to the suit Thursday. He called it a “political stunt” that would come at a cost to taxpayers.
“This petition is filled with falsehoods and we will address each and every one at the proper time. It’s a shame that Delegate Sponaugle has chosen to engage in a political stunt that has no purpose but to waste the valuable time and resources of the executive branch and the West Virginia court system,” Justice said in the statement. “Delegate Sponaugle, a far-left politician, never brought this up when I was a Democrat, but now that an election year is upon us he chose to file this lawsuit to score cheap political points.”
In a Thursday interview, Sponaugle said the suit wasn't a political maneuver targeting Justice, who is a Republican.
"It is not a political ploy or maneuver. I've had numerous Republicans contact me all day long -- more so than Democrats -- [to say] they were glad to see it," Sponaugle said.
"We are governed by laws, we respect the rule of law. And if you believe that you're above it -- which is the case right here -- if I have to take you to court just make you show up to work, then I'll take you to court to make you show up to work," he added.
The suit against Justice follows complaints by other Democratic state lawmakers who have questioned Justice’s presence around the capitol and called for the governor’s resignation.