CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Interior design and renovation decisions with big price tags made for the private chambers of West Virginia’s five Supreme Court justices could lead to changes in how the Mountain State judiciary’s budget is handled overall in the future.
“This just isn’t right,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04). “We’re going to make an effort to change that.”
Currently, unlike in most other states, the Legislature has no control over how the $142 million allocated annually for the West Virginia general revenue judicial budget is spent.
It would take a Constitutional Amendment to permit legislative oversight.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Carmichael answered on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” when asked if that would be pursued during the 2018 Regular Legislative Session.
At their start around 2009, those renovations were projected to cost $900,000.
With needed changes because of the historic nature of the State Capitol building along with additions that included furnishings, the costs climbed to $3.7 million, Bass reported.
Among the furnishings Bass showed in Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s office was a $32,000 sectional sofa with $1,700 worth of throw pillows.
“He had picked out the fabric. It’s the fabric that makes that just outrageously expensive,” Steve Canterbury, the former Supreme Court administrator, said during an appearance on Wednesday’s “580-LIVE with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones” on 580-WCHS.
As Canterbury recalled, Loughry chose the fabric personally with input from his wife and son.
“When I saw what it (the cost) was going to be, I looked at him and said, ‘This is going to be a lot of money,'” Canterbury said. “I’ll never forget it. He (Loughry) said, ‘If it comes out, I’ll just blame you. You’re the administrator. You sign off on this.'”
Loughry, who took office in 2013, denied that completely on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“Steve Canterbury, the prior administrative director of this court, was solely responsible for a $32,000 couch and I think it’s absolutely outrageous,” Loughry said.
Carmichael, like many West Virginians, is also incredulous about the couch price.
“You could pay a teacher in a classroom that will affect people’s lives for generations for that amount of money that’s spent on a couch — or a correctional officer. We could put another correctional officer in for that amount of money,” the Senate president said.
Also in Loughry’s office is a custom $7,500 medallion, according to Bass’ report, that was built into the floor which features each West Virginia county in a different type of wood with a special designation for Loughry’s native Tucker County.
“He wanted it, he drew it up and he really worked on that pretty particularly. I mean, he really was into it and one evidence of that was he had the blue pearl granite, that’s what it’s called, for Tucker County,” Canterbury claimed.
Of that floor, “Steve called it a ‘lovely surprise for me,'” Loughry said. “Steve would spend money like it was his own, like it was his personal checkbook and it wasn’t his personal checkbook.”
Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman, who called in to Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” said she started asking questions about Canterbury’s spending when she took over as chief justice in 2015.
“We were running out of money and couldn’t even pay our bills,” Workman said.
“I know Allen Loughry very well and I can you tell two things about him — He’s very frugal, very frugal, and, No. 2, he cares enough about his future that I can’t fathom him ever agreeing to buy a $30-some thousand dollar couch,” Workman told Hoppy Kercheval.
Loughry described Canterbury as a “disgruntled, fired employee” who “is out there trying to discredit the Court.”
After eleven years as administrator, Canterbury was dismissed this past January amid an expenditures investigation with a 3-2 vote from the Supreme Court after Loughry took over as chief justice.
“Mr. Canterbury was a rogue employee,” Loughry said. “We have continued the investigation and some of the things that I have discovered and some of the things that I have found are so troubling to me that I have personally contacted the United States Attorney’s Office.”
Workman reiterated Loughry’s claims of alleged misspending on Canterbury’s part.
“I understand why the public is outraged, I’m outraged also,” she said. “And I’ve got a 30 year judicial career without a blemish on it and I hate to even be associated with this mess.”
In all, WCHS-TV reported renovations to Chief Justice Loughry’s office totaled $363,000.
Renovations to the office of Justice Robin Davis were the most expensive at $500,278, including an $8,098 office chair. Davis told WCHS-TV she knew the costs associated with the renovations.
The other chamber renovation costs were also follows:
Justice Menis Ketchum $193,909
Justice Beth Walker $130,654
Justice Margaret Workman $111,035
Canterbury said he was serving his bosses in his role as administrator when he oversaw those expenses.
“They wanted what they wanted,” he said. “I would say to them, ‘Well, it’s going to cost this or it’s going to be that way or this way’ and they would say either, ‘Okay, pull back,’ I can’t remember one of those, or they’d say, ‘Go forward.'”
The total judicial budget, which includes the Supreme Court down to the magistrate court and family court levels, is not subject to oversight from the Legislature.
In the West Virginia Constitution, Article VI, Section 51, Subsection A(5) reads the Legislature may change the state budget by increasing or decreasing any time, “Provided that no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased.”
It’s been an issue with lawmakers for years, according to Canterbury.
Earlier this month, he wrote an opinion piece published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail which called for judicial spending oversight from the Legislature.
“The hardest part for them (lawmakers) was to have an issue that would make people want to actually want to do something about it,” Canterbury said on “Talkline.” “Well, now they may have it.”