Justice Attorneys File Residency Brief In W. Va. Supreme Court

Dec 13, 2019

Lawyers representing West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice filed a brief with the state Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday, regarding accusations Justice is violating a state constitutional provision by not taking up the governor’s mansion as his primary residence.  

West Virginia’s constitution requires the governor and all five other elected constitutional officers — secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and agricultural commissioner — to “reside at the seat of government during [his] terms of office.”  

While the governor’s mansion is at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard East in Charleston, Justice has admitted to living almost two hours south in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County.  

The brief filed Friday is the latest installment in a 18-month saga starting in June 2018, when Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, first filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court requesting a writ of mandamus on the matter. 

Sponaugle filed two more petitions until the court finally accepted his third filing that December.  

Since then, Justice’s attorneys have fired back, claiming the word “reside” comes with a vague definition. In a news release, Justice said former acting U.S. Attorney General George Terwilliger was part of the legal team that filed the latest brief with the state Supreme Court.  

Justice appointed three of the current justices on the state’s highest bench — Tim Armstead, Evan Jenkins and John Hutchison — to fill vacancies left by justices caught up in a scandal last year related to lavish spending. Armstead and Jenkins each won in a 2018 special election to finish their respective terms.  

“The governor’s duty to ‘reside’ at the seat of government is vague and undefined, and necessarily implicates executive decisions as to where and how the governor spends his time on any given day,” the brief says.  

Because that decision is an “executive decision,” the attorneys go on, the whole matter merits ‘separation of powers’ and doesn’t need judicial involvement. The brief requests the supreme court dismiss Sponaugle’s request “with prejudice.”  

After Justice’s motion to dismiss was denied in July 2019, his attorneys requested Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King certify a list of questions for the state Supreme Court of Appeals to consider regarding the debate. The Associated Press reports King denied the motion in October

At that August hearing when King considered the questions, Sponaugle said the case was significant because it demonstrates a disregard for state law by Justice. 

“It starts there and floods down from there, onto various issues,” Sponaugle said in August. The legislator was unavailable for immediate comment Friday evening, saying he needed time to review the brief.