CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha circuit judge has denied a motion to dismiss the residency case against Gov. Jim Justice.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King issued the order Wednesday, meaning the case will continue forward.
The order also means Governor Justice’s legal team will have to start answering questions about his residency preference.
Lawyers for Justice are supposed to respond to the first set of discovery requests within 30 days, according to King’s order.
King presided over a hearing June 5 over whether the case and discovery should go forward. The judge asked then how the governor’s residency could be enforced, in practical terms.
The lawyers for the Governor’s Office, as they did in earlier court filings, described the term “reside” as “nebulous” and “slippery like an eel.”
They said it’s not the role of circuit court to enforce a concept that’s too loose to be enforced.
The lawsuit was brought by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, acting in his capacity as a citizen. He is a lawyer in Franklin.
“I’m pleased with the Court’s decision,” Sponaugle stated today. “The Court affirmed that my Writ of Mandamus is the appropriate legal action to enforce and bring into line Jim Justice’s conduct as Governor.”
Sponaugle contends Justice violates the state constitution’s requirement to reside 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.
“The next phase in the case is to gather facts on where Jim Justice has resided since he became Governor. The Court will hear the facts then decide if Jim Justice has been faithfully abiding by his oath of office as Governor or willfully ignoring it,” Sponaugle stated.
“I don’t believe he has been faithful to his oath of office, but time will tell. The facts won’t lie.”
Justice has continued to make his home in Lewisburg, about two hours from Charleston.
He says he works hard no matter where he is and that he may be reached at all hours via his flip phone.
The Governor’s Office put out a statement in response to the court order:
“Right now, Governor Justice’s odometer reads 142,566. Each and every one of those miles was logged in our great state in less than two years. He pays for every gallon of his gas and every meal for the hardworking state troopers who work at his side.
“He’s out meeting with local leaders and regular people from every corner of our state because that’s what a Governor should do; he’s not looking for a gold star for sitting behind his desk every day. There’s a reason why West Virginia was No. 1 for income growth during the first quarter and why we’ve had surplus after surplus: we’ve never had a Governor who works as hard and knows how to get things done like Governor Justice does.”
Responses to the discovery request could shed additional light on how that works.
The first set of discovery questions laid out by Sponaugle in an earlier filing includes a series of admissions, questions and items to be produced.
Admission Request 1 is “Please admit you have not resided at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, West Virginia, or any other residence located inside the municipal boundaries of Charleston, West Virginia, since January 16, 2017.”
More questions include:
“Please provide in detail how many nights you spent overnight at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston, West Virginia, since January 16, 2017, or any other residence located inside the municipal boundaries of Charleston, West Virginia. Include the dates of the overnights you spent there in your response.”
“Please provide in detail a list of any personal property items that you have located at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston, West Virginia and on what date you moved those items into the mansion. For purposes of this question, personal property would include, but not be limited to, beds, couches, furniture, appliances, televisions, clothes, etc.”
“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, West Virginia.”
“Please produce a photocopy of all logs, emails and text messages that you have made doing your state work as governor away from your office at the West Virginia Capitol located at 1900 Kanawha Boulevard E., Charleston, West Virginia.”
“Please produce a photocopy of the oath or affirmation of office for the Governor of the State of West Virginia.”