CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The legal issue of where Gov. Jim Justice resides is going back to court this summer.
A hearing date has been set for June 5 before Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King.
Judge King has already presided over a hearing in the case once. That August 27, 2018 hearing resulted in King asking question after question about how he could enforce the governor’s residency choices.
“You want me to compel him to live here?” King asked during that hearing.
The case challenging whether the governor adheres to West Virginia’s constitutional requirement to live at the seat of government has bounced around the court system for the past year.
The case was first tossed out of King’s court because Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, the plaintiff and a Democrat from Pendleton County, had not provided a required 30 days notice of suing a government agency.
Sponaugle then took the case to the state Supreme Court, which rejected the petition.
So, he filed again with Kanawha Circuit Court, which covers cases affecting state government agencies.
Sponaugle, who is a lawyer in Franklin, has been filing the lawsuits as a citizen. He contends Governor Justice has not lived up to the state Constitution’s requirement to live at the seat of government.
The state Constitution addresses 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.
Where Justice lives has been an issue ever since he took office. He has continued to make his home in Lewisburg, a couple of hours from the Capitol. He says he works hard no matter where he is and that he may be reached at all hours via his flip phone.
Filings from Sponaugle in the current circuit court case ask a range of questions about those habits.
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, West Virginia, or any other residence located inside the municipal boundaries of Charleston, West Virginia, since Jan. 16, 2017.”
More proposed questions ask how many nights Justice has spent at the Governor’s Mansion, what personal property he has ever kept there, why the governor thinks he can live in Lewisburg and how many days he has spent at the Capitol.
The discovery request also asks for copies of Justice’s 2017 and 2018 tax returns, records of where the State Police were providing protection, records of all public records that Justice does not keep at the Capitol and a photocopy of all logs, emails and text messages from Justice while doing his official work as governor away from the Capitol.
Finally, it asks, “Please produce a photocopy of the oath or affirmation of office for Governor of the State of West Virginia.”
In a statement to MetroNews, Sponaugle said it’s important to have that basic information to determine if the governor is complying with the constitutional mandate.
“If a Court decides constitutional residency exists, then it may want to issue a test of what it is. It will apply the facts of the case to the test to see if the Governor has passed or failed,” Sponaugle stated. “It needs completed discovery to do that.”
Lawyers for Governor Justice object to those questions. On March 1, they filed a petition to stay the discovery.
That motion calls many of the requests burdensome.
It also suggests the notion of where a person resides is not easy to pin down.
The motion contends the court filing is not the proper way to prescribe the way a government official should act, “and the purported duty to ‘reside’ at the seat of government is so nebulous and laden with discretion that any writ granted in this case would necessarily involve prescribing the manner in which the governor shall act.
“Second, petitioner has served invasive and burdensome discovery requests seeking detailed and sensitive information about such matters as Respondent’s sleeping habits, Respondent’s movements throughout the state and location of Respondent’s personal property.”
Lawyers for Justice also filed a motion to dismiss the whole case.
That filing also suggests the court action would not be the proper way to prescribe the manner in which a government official should act. And it also describes the “purported duty to ‘reside’ at the seat of government” as “nebulous.”
The motion to dismiss maintains that any court decision “would necessarily involve prescribing the manner in which the Governor shall act, thereby encroaching on his autonomy.”
The motion to dismiss suggests going to court is not the way to handle where the governor lives. It says there are other potential remedies if anyone has a problem with how the governor handles his official business.
Those include the ballot box or, potentially, impeachment.
“Here, there are other adequate remedies available to Petitioner. If Petitioner is truly dissatisfied with the manner in which Respondent is performing his duties, then he (and any other citizen of this State) has the ability to vote him out of office at the next gubernatorial election.
“Furthermore, as a member of the Legislature, Petitioner also has the ability to initiate impeachment proceedings if he deems them
warranted. However, Petitioner is not entitled to a writ of mandamus controlling the manner in which Respondent apportions his time and presence.”