Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography

Former Court Administrator Steve Canterbury is sworn in to testify in impeachment proceedings at the House of Delegates.

If this House Judiciary Committee impeachment investigation has a star witness, it is Steve Canterbury. The former long-time state Supreme Court of Appeals administrator delivered a full day of compelling and damaging testimony.

Canterbury, in serious and measured tones, said repeatedly that the excessive spending on Supreme Court office renovations and accessories was approved by the Justices.  Canterbury said when he raised questions about the spending he was overruled.  “They’re in charge,” he told the committee members.

(Read Brad McEhinny’s report on Canterbury’s testimony.)

Media reports starting late last year about the costly expenditures triggered several investigations that have subsequently revealed additional allegations of Justices Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum using court vehicles for private trips.  Ketchum has resigned amid the controversy and Loughry is facing a 23-count federal indictment that includes charges that he lied to investigators and tried to obstruct potential witnesses.  Loughry is on suspension without pay.

Canterbury’s testimony is vital to the impeachment proceedings because he worked directly for the Justices.  He was fired by Loughry last February.

Testifying under oath, Canterbury said Loughry lied when the Justice claimed he was unaware of the specifics of his office renovations that included a $32,000 couch and $7,500 wooden inlaid floor in the shape of the state.

“He (Loughry) sketched out exactly how he wanted his office to look, and he wanted the medallion on the floor.  He’d seen that somewhere and he thought it was cool,” he testified, adding that Loughry tracked the office work “daily, sometimes a couple of times a day, he would check in.”

Canterbury repeated the now infamous conversation with Loughry where the Justice said to him, possibly in a joking manner, that if the cost of the couch become public, “I’ll just blame it on you.”

Canterbury’s testimony also caused problems for current Chief Justice Margaret Workman.  He said under oath that Workman pressed him to hire four people, all of whom had worked on her campaign. The four included an IT person who volunteered for Workman’s campaign.  Canterbury said the IT person was paid $160,000, but he struggled to carry out IT tasks and quit after a little over a year.

He also testified that Workman’s office renovations included a wooden floor of “wide planked cherry from Vermont,” but he did not know the cost of the upgrade.

Shockingly, the Court doesn’t even have to go through the bidding process. “They didn’t have to bid anything if they didn’t want to,” Canterbury said. “The Court was not under any obligation to follow purchasing in any way, shape or form.”

The testimony of Canterbury and others over the five days of impeachment hearings demonstrates clearly that the Court has operated without essential checks and balances on spending or regard for taxpayer dollars.

“They’re in charge, they are the bosses,” Canterbury said.  “They approved their own individual work and their own individual expense vouchers and they were paid.”

West Virginia voters will get their chance to rein in the Court in November when they vote on a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would put the Court’s budget under control of the Legislature.   Maybe Canterbury could not stop the reckless behavior by the Court, but the people of West Virginia can with their votes.

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