West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) is the latest legislative leader to express outrage over excessive spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court on office renovations and furnishings.
The Court has spent $3.7 million in office repairs, redecorating and refurbishing over the last several years, and some of the spending is more in keeping with the tastes of a millionaire than of a poor state that struggles to balance a tight budget.
“These things that have come to light are alarming,” Armstead told me earlier this week on Talkline.
Much of the attention has focused on the $32,000 couch in Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s office. He says former court administrator Steve Canterbury is to blame and that he fired Canterbury the first chance he got. Canterbury says Loughry knew what the couch cost and approved it.
But one of the largest of the controversial expenses was the renovation of Justice Robin Davis’s office. That cost $500,278.23. According to Realtor.com, the median listing price for a house in Charleston is $150,000.
Davis’s office work included over $23,000 for “design services” by Ed Weber Architects. The glass countertops, glass door and floor cost $90,000. Stainless steel cabinets and shelves cost $40,000. Two Edward Fields rugs priced out at over $28,000.
Davis, in an interview with WCHS TV’s Kennie Bass, who broke the original story, owned up to the expenses. “I wanted the people of West Virginia to hear about my office from me,” she told Bass. “Anything that is done in this office is on me.”
Lawmakers may well take that to heart. “No one can justify spending that kind of money… it’s incredibly excessive spending,” Armstead said.
The controversy expanded this week with the revelations that Justice Loughry had a sofa left behind by the late Justice Joe Albright and a Cass Gilbert desk at his home office. Loughry, who is increasingly frustrated by the controversy, had the couch and desk removed and taken to storage.
“The desk was not returned because its use was inappropriate, but because issues such as this are becoming an obstacle to the Court completing its important work,” Loughry said. Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said, “The Court has a longstanding practice of providing the justices an opportunity to establish a home office, with Court-provided technology equipment and furniture to suit their respective needs.”
The Supreme Court spending issue has the West Virginia Bar buzzing. The legal community is a small, close-knit group and what happens at the high court is of significant interest. However, neither of the two main legal organizations in the state—the West Virginia State Bar and the West Virginia Association for Justice (trial attorneys)—is willing to be publicly critical of the court.
Sometime next month, Loughry will appear before the House and Senate Finance Committees to explain the Judiciary’s budget for next year. It is normally a perfunctory exercise since by law the legislature has no control over the budget.
However, the committee rooms will be packed for these hearings and lawmakers will have plenty of questions about how taxpayer dollars are spent on the third floor in the East wing of the Capitol.