As Justice Fights For Coaching Job, There’s A Renewed Legal Threat Over His Residency
A former West Virginia lawmaker who sued Gov. Jim Justice over where the governor lives says he’s once again filing legal action.
The revival of the residency dispute comes after a court case was dismissed earlier this year — and as Justice continues to fight for a high school basketball coaching position.
Isaac Sponaugle, a Pendleton County attorney and former member of the House of Delegates, notified Justice this week of his intent to sue over a constitutional mandate that the governor live in Charleston.
Article 7, Section 1 of the West Virginia Constitution states that the Governor and the state’s five other executive branch officers “shall reside” at the seat of government while in office.
In a letter sent to Justice dated Wednesday, Sponaugle said the governor isn’t abiding by an agreement stemming from earlier legal proceedings.
Sponaugle initially filed suit in 2018, alleging that Justice was in violation of the residency mandate.
After years of legal wranglings — that one time landed in the hands of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals — Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Daniel P. O’Hanlon dismissed the case in March 2021, after Sponaugle and attorneys for Justice agreed that the governor would reside in Charleston.
“Jim Justice hasn’t lived up to his word that he would reside at the seat of government,” Sponaugle said in a news release. “It’s his choice on how this will proceed, but he will reside at the seat of government, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as long as he remains governor of the state of West Virginia.”
Justice responded to the legal threat through a statement released his attorneys, Michael W. Carey and Steven R. Ruby, who called Sponaugle's efforts distracting.
"We were disappointed to see Mr. Sponaugle grasping for media attention by trying to revive this pointless case, which he already took $65,000 in state money for settling once," they said. "It's simply out of touch with the objective facts of Gov. Justice's accomplishments, which exceed those of any administration in memory... If Mr. Sponaugle is looking for a boost in his next political race, it's unfortunate that this is how he's decided to pursue it, because West Virginians know better."
At least tangentially related to Sponaugle’s renewed legal threat is Justice’s recent activities in Greenbrier County. While he already coaches the Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team, Justice has been fighting to get the coaching job for the boys’ team.
Last month, the Greenbrier County Board of Education voted 3-2 to reject the governor’s application for the second coaching gig.
Supporters of the governor have spoken to the board in favor of him having the job, but players on the basketball team have said they want a coach fully dedicated to the position.
Justice has filed a public employee grievance in the matter. The Greenbrier County board is set to discuss the grievance during a special meeting set for Friday afternoon.
Upon first learning of being rejected for the position, Justice hinted at pursuing legal action through a grievance.
“From the standpoint of where we move forward and how we do things within our state, these are the very reasons that our employees across our state have laws,” Justice said at the end of an August 24 virtual briefing on the pandemic. “These are the very, very reasons. There could never be a more shining example. There’s no way.”
Sponaugle made note Thursday of Justice’s coaching ambitions as he threatened renewed legal action in the residency case.
“Jim Justice needs to decide what he wants to do with his time.He’s a part-time Governor, part-time businessman, and part-time basketball coach,” Sponaule said. “The only thing that he’s doing full-time is residing in Greenbrier County. That’s going to end, and he will abide by the Constitution whether he likes it or not.”