CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A state delegate is suing the governor over the state Constitution’s requirement that the chief executive reside at the seat of state government.
G. Isaac Sponaugle III would like for James Conley Justice II to live at publicly-provided housing 1716 Kanawha Boulevard E., Charleston, also known as the Governor’s Mansion.
Sponaugle is a Democrat in the House of Delegates but he filed the lawsuit as a citizen of Pendleton County. He’s also a lawyer, so he wrote the lawsuit himself and mailed it off to Kanawha Circuit Court, where it was filed Thursday.
The case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King.
“That petitioner, as a citizen and taxpayer of the State of West Virginia, has a clear legal right in relief sought hereinbelow,” Sponaugle wrote.
Where the governor lives has been a lingering issue over his time in office, but it has heated up in recent weeks.
Gov. Jim Justice has chosen to continue making his home in Lewisburg, although the state Constitution requires the state’s executive officeholders to live at the seat of government.
Democrats have taken the governor to task over where he lives while the Governor’s Office has been dealing with several investigations involving its own agencies over the past few weeks. Sponaugle’s lawsuit notes that teachers on strike at the Capitol this winter were upset to see the governor often wasn’t there.
“Petitioner is concerned about Respondent’s habitual absenteeism and its effect on the poor productivity of state government and declining morale among many state workers due to it,” the lawsuit states. “Petitioner believes that recent scandals that appear in the daily newspapers on a regular occurrence are due to Respondent’s neglect of his constitutional duties and the office of Governor is not in proper order.”
The state Constitution always has and continues to address where officers of the executive branch should live: “They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.”
That applies to the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, agriculture commissioner and attorney general.
Justice has taken umbrage with the complaints, extolling his own work ethic and casting the complaints as caring about where he sleeps rather than what he gets done. He also has discussed how easy he is to reach at all hours on his flip phone.
He has not put forth a constitutional argument.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) June 21, 2018
He focused the beginning of a press conference this Monday on responding to the complaint about his home, using a whiteboard to illustrate his point of view.
It included a series of tasks he says do not have to be completed by staff because of his lifestyle choice: “Don’t need to do laundry, cook, make bed, clean bathroom, drive me everywhere.”
As the white board indicates, he also does not need “PARTY PARTY PARTY Wine Room.”
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) June 18, 2018
A memorandum filed in support of Sponaugle’s lawsuit uses some of Justice’s own words to build its argument.
Regarding where he works, Justice said during a recent press conference, “It doesn’t matter whether I do it in the back of a Suburban or from the top of the dome.”
In another instance, Justice said, “I’ll only stay at the mansion when it’s comfortable to me.”
Sponaugle also quotes the filmmaker Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”
Sponaugle is requesting a writ of mandamus that Justice meet his constitutional duty to reside at the seat of government:
“That Petitioner requests that a writ of mandamus be issued henceforth that Respondent meet his nondiscretionary mandatory constitutional duty pursuant to Section 1 of Article VII of the West Virginia Constitution and be ordered to reside at the seat of government during his term of office, and keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to his respective office.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 21, 2018
A second aspect of Sponaugle’s lawsuit lays out questions to be asked of Justice.
For example: “Admission Request No. 1: Please admit that you have not resided at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard E., Charleston, W.Va., since January 16, 2017.”
And: “Interrogatories Request No. 7: Please provide in detail how many nights you spent overnight at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard E., Charleston, W.Va., since January 16, 2017. Include the dates of the overnights that you spend there in your response.”
Also: “Interrogatories Request No. 14: Describe in detail how you can keep up with the daily functions of the Office of Governor when you are not present at the West Virginia Capitol located at 1900 Kanawha Boulevard E., Charleston.”
Sponaugle’s filing also requests the turnover of a series of documents, including logs and details of State Police escort in Greenbrier County as well as at the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
The last document requested is this: “Please produce a photocopy of the oath or affirmation of office for the Governor of the State of West Virginia.”