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House panel gets invoices for High Court renovations

July 28, 2018

By LACIE PIERSON

HD Media

CHARLESTON - More clearly than at any other point in their hearings so far, members of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee on Friday heard about how much renovations cost in each office belonging to West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

The sixth day of hearings into whether to impeach any of the four remaining justices opened with the introduction of a binder containing 1,000 pages of invoices and other documents related to the renovations to the court, which have become one of the main focus points for the lawmakers considering impeachment.

The top of the committee’s hearing Friday morning had testimony from Justin Robinson, manager of the post-audit division of the West Virginia Legislative Auditor’s Office.

Legislative auditors received the binder containing the more than 1,000 documents after Robinson testified before the committee on July 12, Judiciary Attorney Marsha Kauffman said.

Robinson told lawmakers Friday that Barbara Allen, interim Supreme Court administrator, called him Thursday to let him know she learned some invoices had been omitted from the binder at Allen Loughry’s request. Robinson said interim court administrator Barbara Allen let him know the court was working to collect and submit those missing invoices to legislative auditors.

Auditors haven’t had enough time to completely review the documents in the binder, but Robinson said they were far enough along to tell committee members how much renovations in each justice’s office cost.

The timing of the renovations meant that six renovations took place as Beth Walker replaced incumbent Brent Benjamin on the court when she defeated him in the 2016 election.

Under questioning from Kauffman, Robinson said the justices’ office renovation costs were as follows:

n Brent Benjamin: $264,301

n Robin Davis: $500,278

n Menis Ketchum: $171,838

n Allen Loughry: $363,013

n Beth Walker: $130,655

nMargaret Workman: $111,035.

Media reports about the renovations last fall were the catalyst for legislative audits about the Supreme Court’s use of state resources, and they also led Loughry to report his concerns to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of West Virginia.

The introduction of the binder came with the introduction of other documents regarding Justice Loughry’s trips to The Greenbrier resort for book signings and to his native Tucker County for a magistrate court hearing in a civil case against his father.

The new documentation was introduced one day after former court administrator Steve Canterbury testified about his relationship with Loughry and the same day that Canterbury said on a local radio show that he was the person who leaked information about the court’s renovations to local media last fall.

Friday also marked the day that Justice Menis Ketchum’s resignation from the Supreme Court was effective.

Ketchum’s resignation means he can’t be impeached. It also means there are four justices on the five-member court - Margaret Workman, Robin Jean Davis, Allen Loughry and Beth Walker.

Gov. Jim Justice is responsible for appointing an interim justice, who will serve on the court until the November general election, when West Virginia voters will elect a justice to serve the rest of Ketchum’s term, which ends in 2020.

Loughry, 47, has been suspended without pay from the bench since June 8, two days after the Judicial Investigation Commission charged him with violating the state’s Judicial Code of Conduct.

He also is the subject of a 23-count federal indictment in which he’s charged with 16 counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, three counts of making false statements to a federal agent and one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

His trial is scheduled for Oct. 8, and he is out of jail on a personal recognizance bond.

Loughry has been the only justice to face any formal ethical or criminal charges.

Friday’s committee hearing was set to be the last one for at least a week, said Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer.

The committee tentatively is set to resume hearings Aug. 5 or 6, Shott said at the end of Friday’s hearing, which lasted about two hours.

In the coming days, Shott said he and four other “managers” will meet in an executive session to discuss setting definitions for impeachable offenses as they relate to the evidence they’ve reviewed so far.

While impeachable offenses are listed in the West Virginia Constitution, no definitions of those offenses are provided in the constitution or elsewhere in state law, giving the committee discretion in determining if any action fits the mold of an impeachable offense.

During the interim week, Shott said the committee will be awaiting information from the Judicial Investigation Commission about its investigation into working lunches at the Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, the commission issued a statement saying no charges of ethical violations regarding the lunches would be filed against Workman, Davis or Walker.

Shott noted that the Judicial Investigation Commission had investigated whether the lunches were violations of state ethics laws, but he said the matter at issue with the House Judiciary Committee was whether the court spent an excessive amount of money on those lunches.

House Judiciary Attorney John Hardison reviewed the lunch-related documents with the committee.

Hardison said the documents showed the court spent a total of $42,314.76 on working lunches over the course of five years, beginning in 2013.

Of that amount, $4,322.67 was spent on lunches that Hardison said were “unverified” because they didn’t take place on days when the court was in session.

Among the the Judicial Investigation Commission’s charges against Loughry, he’s accused of abusing the prestige of his office by ordering a $32,000 custom designed couch for his office amid the renovations as well as a $7,500 West Virginia county map inlaid in the floor of his office. He also is accused of lying to lawmakers, the media and the public about his involvement in the renovations of his office.

After the brief review of the invoices, Judiciary Committee Attorney Brian Casto presented information that he said indicated at least four instances when Loughry reserved a state vehicle without stating a destination on the same days he participated in book-signing events at The Greenbrier for his book, “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.”

Casto also presented evidence that showed Loughry similarly reserved a state vehicle without stating a destination the same day he traveled to Tucker County in 2014.

Loughry’s personal calendar stated he was participating in a magistrate meeting and attending “Dad’s hearing” at 10 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2014, Casto said.

Casto said Loughry met with one of two magistrates in Tucker County that day, but he didn’t meet with the magistrate who presided over his father’s case.

Loughry attended his father’s hearing, and the case against his father was dropped, Casto said.

When questioned by delegates, Casto said the committee had not received any reports or evidence indicating any of the other justices similarly used state vehicles or attended court hearings in cases involving their relatives.

While the Judiciary Committee’s hearing was in progress Friday morning, former Supreme Court Administrator Canterbury was talking about the court with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones on Jones’ radio show.

Canterbury testified before the committee Thursday. His testimony originally was set to last until Friday, but it wrapped up earlier than committee members anticipated.

Canterbury revealed to Jones that he leaked information to WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass that became the first in a series of stories on the court’s excessive spending that triggered massive public and legislative scrutiny.

Canterbury broke the news when Jones asked whether he knew Loughry kept the Cass Gilbert desk at his home.

“I have absolute proof I didn’t know about the desk,” he said. “I was the unidentified source who told (Bass) about the couch, who told him about the car use, who told him everything I knew in October of last year.”

Had he known about the desk, he said, he would have told the reporter then.

Canterbury said he had considered walking away from the court entirely after his ouster, but he heard Loughry was in consideration for a federal judgeship at the time and he felt he had to get the information out.

“I said no, I gotta let some people know some things,” he said. “I thought about how to do it, and I thought some of it was for print and some of it was for TV, but most of it was TV, I decided.”

On Thursday, Canterbury discussed some of the details of his and Loughry’s working relationship, which was known among court staff to be a difficult relationship, according to testimony during the Judiciary Committee’s hearings.

Canterbury said he once had to talk to Loughry about sexually harassing comments he made to a female administrative assistant, and he also had a conversation with Loughry in which Loughry accused Canterbury of telling former Justice Spike Maynard to fire Loughry when he was a law clerk in the court.

The other four justices voted Loughry as chief justice effective on Jan. 1, 2017, and the justices voted 3-2 to fire Canterbury on Jan. 5, 2017.

That day, Canterbury and other witnesses said Canterbury discussed whether he should go to the media or “go off into the sunset.”

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.

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