CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers say there is bipartisan support for a possible constitutional amendment to allow legislative oversight of the state Supreme Court’s budget even after hearing from Chief Justice Allen Loughry.
The House and Senate Finance Committees heard budget presentations from Loughry during the past week following excessive spending by the Court on office furnishings.
Loughry wasn’t specifically asked to explain the misuse of the funds in either budget hearing, but he did repeat the spending was unacceptable and was beyond his control.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) said the presentation was “dissatisfying” and didn’t change his mind about voting in favor of the amendment.
“I do believe that that train has left the station. There are 49 out of 50 states actually have legislative oversight. That is part of the triad so to speak of the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch where it creates a balance,” Blair said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The amendment would allow the Legislature to oversee the nearly $140 million court system budget each year. Currently, the budget is controlled by the judiciary branch.
House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) said the constitution should be changed, but within reason.
“I think it should be changed and modified, but I do think protections needs to be built in somehow so that there’s not retribution against a particular Court if one Democratic or Republican lead Legislature is unhappy with the Court,” said Miley, who was also a guest on “Talkline.”
It’s important for the Legislature to be involved with court system spending, Miley said.
“I do think it’s reasonable for the Legislature, who appropriates funds for our state, to appropriate the Supreme Court’s funds as well and many programs that fall under the Supreme Court,” he said.
The Court has been criticized after recent stories about the $32,000 couch in Loughry’s office, the $7,500 wooden West Virginia medallion inlaid into Loughry’s floor, the more than $28,000 rugs in Justice Robin Davis’s office and thousands of dollars more in renovations for Justice Beth Walker’s chambers.
Blair said officials need to make sure the lavish spending doesn’t happen again.
“We need to have that transparency in place and that’s exactly what the constitutional amendment would allow for us to have,” he said.