Justice Residency Case on Pause While Judge Considers Most Recent Motions

Aug 21, 2019

It appears that a now more-than-one-year-old case to determine where West Virginia's governor constitutionally must reside will continue, after a hearing on the matter Wednesday morning. 

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King told Gov. Jim Justice’s attorneys he will need more time to consider a pair of motions they filed in late July, halting the discovery process for the time being. 

One motion asks King to explain why he shot down the lawyers’ request in July to dismiss the entire case, which Delegate Isaac Sponaugle filed last year.  

Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Their second motion asks King to certify a list of questions the lawyers have for the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals, mostly relating to how they legally define the term “reside” and what their definition requires of Justice.

Sponaugle, a democrat in Pendleton County, filed the first of three lawsuits on the case last summer. He specifically asked for a “writ of mandamus” that would force Justice to meet the Constitution's residency requirement. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, more than a year later, he told King he opposed the attorney’s questions, calling them a “waste of time” and a “way to drag (the case) out.”

“The same arguments that were being presented back then are being presented now,” Sponaugle said. The delegate also says Justice’s legal team failed to adequately respond to a request for discovery he submitted last month. The attorneys had until August 15 to respond. 

One of Justices’ attorneys, George Terwilliger, said on Wednesday the Supreme Court of Appeals’ response is necessary to address whether state leaders can legally force Justice to live at the designated governor’s mansion in Charleston at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard. Justice lives in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County. 

Terwilliger said after Wednesday’s hearing that the residency requirement is more about where Justice spends his time working than it is about where he “lays his head at night.”

“It’s really about doing his business here, when he needs to do his business here,” Terwilliger said. “You don't have to have a trial to figure out that this governor has been doing a lot of business for the people of West Virginia, both here in Charleston and elsewhere.”

According to Sponaugle, the governor’s refusal to live primarily in Charleston is indicative of what Sponaugle called his “refusal to work.”

Justice has come under fire often during his first term in office, most recently facing allegations of conflicts of interest.

In partnership with ProPublica, the Charleston Gazette-Mail last week published a more-than-6,000-word report on Justice’s businesses, and how they stand to benefit from the regulatory agencies he leads as governor. 

The News-Sentinel published a report in July about a bill Justice signed that month, following the last special session, that will financially benefit a company his own organization is in a court battle with.  

According to Sponaugle, the question of residency is a similarly significant controversy, simply because Justice’s alleged failure to comply with the law trickles into his other alleged violations of the law.

“It starts there and floods down from there, onto various issues,” Sponaugle said. 

King has yet to decide what he’ll do with the motions Justice’s lawyers have filed.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.