CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former West Virginia Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury testified for hours about the many controversies that have led to impeachment hearings.
Much of Canterbury’s testimony focused on Justice Allen Loughry, who faces a 23-count federal indictment. This was the fifth day of testimony for the impeachment proceedings, which could envelop one or more justices. The hearings in the House of Delegates will continue Friday.
HOPPY KERCHEVAL: Canterbury’s testimony adds weight to impeachment
Canterbury said friction began even before Loughry was a Justice. It started when Loughry was a clerk for then-Justice Spike Maynard. A temporary employee who worked for Canterbury said Loughry sexually harassed her.
“It was about her body. It embarrassed her. It made her feel really bad. She did not want that to happen anymore,” Canterbury told delegates.
Canterbury said he talked to Loughry and told him the comments should stop. He also went to Justice Maynard, who was then Loughry’s boss. He said the temporary employee was nearing the end of her time at the court and declined to press the matter farther.
“I figured it was water under the dam. I never brought it up. He never brought it up,” Canterbury said.
Canterbury said that was one of the instances that led him to conclude of Loughry, “I think his character was not suitable for the bench.”
Loughry was elected to the Supreme Court for a term that began at the beginning of 2013.
By 2014, Canterbury testified, Loughry asked for his resignation.
Canterbury said that situation was prompted by Loughry’s belief that Canterbury had called him young and would learn more about the value of the drug court. But Canterbury said he doesn’t actually remember saying anything like that.
“He said I had disrespected him,” Canterbury said. “I did not resign. From that moment on, he would not speak to me. In fact, he sometimes referred to me in the third person when I was in the room.”
Canterbury added, “I kept thinking I could bring him around.”
He said Canterbury’s disposition changed significantly from his time as an employee of the court to a justice who had taken on the mantle of authority.
“The transformation in Justice Loughry’s character from when he was a law clerk to his being on the court was extraordinary,” Canterbury says.
Canterbury added, “There would just be times when he’d rather be rather difficult. It’s hard to describe.”
By late 2016, Canterbury started to worry about his job.
He had a resignation letter ready in case he needed to resign by the end of that year, weighing a possible pay out of annual leave versus rumors he might be fired.
He came to believe Justice Margaret Workman, who he had considered his friend, had taken up sides with Loughry, who had earlier been Workman’s clerk. “They apparently became quite close,” Canterbury said.
“I had heard through the grapevine that Justice Workman had turned strongly against me,” Canterbury said.
He said he sought assurances from new Justice Beth Walker, who he believed had a good relationship with him. He was concerned she might be the third vote in favor of his termination. An email exchange led him to believe he would be OK.
About 10 a.m. Feb. 4, 2017, he was summoned into a conference room.
“Justice Loughry said ‘You’re being terminated from your will and pleasure position. Would you rather be terminated or would you rather resign?’”
Canterbury said he chose termination because of unemployment benefits.
“I practically begged them to keep me on,” Canterbury said. “They wanted me gone.”
Canterbury said he called Loughry a “Simulacrum in Chief,” which, he told delegates, means “an elaborate fraud.” He said Loughry was puzzled by the phrase.
Loughry had later said Canterbury threatened to ruin the court.
Canterbury testified that wasn’t correct.
“I never threatened them,” Canterbury says. “I was under the gun to move my stuff. I remember saying something like ‘I don’t know whether to go to the press and tell them everything I know or just sail off into the sunset.’”
Delegate Phil Isner, D-Randolph, asked followup questions about the day Canterbury was fired: “Did you say ‘I will destroy you’?”
“No, I’m not General MacArthur,” Canterbury told Isner.
Delegate Rodney Miller, a Democrat and former Boone County sheriff, asked Canterbury: “Do you think there is a general belief by members of the West Virginia Supreme Court that they are above the law?”
Canterbury replied, “I don’t think they would ever believe they’re above the law. But I do think they do believe they say what the law is.”
Chairman John Shott asked a question that he said has been nagging at him during the three weeks of impeachment testimony: “In the 12 years between elections, to whom is a justice accountable?”
“His or her own conscience,” Canterbury said, adding that sometimes peer pressure among justices can have an effect.
Canterbury then elaborated. “People who get elected to justice have pretty big egos,” he said, “and it’s pretty hard to change their behavior.”
There was more testimony about a variety of topics.
The state furniture that wound up in Loughry’s home
At the end of 2016, as Justice Walker came on board, she needed a desk and the thought was to let her use the antique Cass Gilbert desk. But it couldn’t be found. “I was livid,” Canterbury said. “Goodness gracious. How can you lose one of these desks?”
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked about a Loughry claim that Canterbury told him he could take a desk home.
Canterbury replied, “That’s just a barefaced lie. I had no idea he’d moved a desk.”
On the topic of home offices, staff counsel Marsha Kauffman asked Canterbury if he remembered any policy saying justices could have a home office supplied by the state.
“No,” he said.
“As so often happens, technology outpaced policy,” Canterbury added. He said justices began with fax machines which then expanded to computers. Security concerns necessitated the computers being official state equipment.
Kauffman asked about a couch formerly owned by Justice Joseph Albright that first wound up in Loughry’s office and then in the Loughry household.
As Canterbury recalled, “Justice Loughry told me he thought he would take that couch home for his home office. My reaction was ‘what?’”
Canterbury was asked about Justice Loughry’s claim that he had little involvement in the renovations of his own office.
Canterbury said that characterization was not true.
“Daily, sometimes a couple of times a day, he would check in,” Canterbury said. “He would write emails, hundreds of emails. They were all around the clock.”
Delegates entered a hand-drawn illustration of how Loughry wanted his office to appear.
“He sketched out exactly how he wanted his office to look,” Canterbury said, “and he wanted the medallion on the floor. He’d seen that somewhere and he thought it was cool.”
A $32,000 couch that was part of Loughry’s new office suite also became controversial. Canterbury described receiving an invoice and going to talk to Loughry about it.
“It seemed extreme to me so I went up to find him. I said, ‘This couch is $32,000. You want me to go through with this?’”
Canterbury said Loughry responded, “If it ever becomes public, I’ll just blame it on you.”
Canterbury elaborated: “His humor is interesting. It’s kind of insult humor. He has a self-satisfied chuckle.”
Canterbury said he had similar a discussion with Justice Robin Davis about her chair and rugs and with Justice Workman about her wood floor: “Are you sure you still want it? This is pretty expensive.”
Each justice still wanted those office improvements.
Workman’s hiring requests
Delegates asked Canterbury about some hiring requests by Justice Workman.
“I don’t recall anyone else asking me to hire anybody,” he says of Workman.
In one case, he said, an employee wasn’t working out and Canterbury wanted to end the employment. He said Workman hinted that his own employment might be at risk.
“Justices are often looking for new administrators,” he said Workman told him.