CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Where does West Virginia’s governor reside?
“Respondent objects to this request on the grounds that the term ‘reside’ is not defined, that the meaning of ‘reside’ is vague and varies by context, and that there is no legal authority setting forth the specific parameters of the character and/or amount of time a person must spend at a given location in order to be deemed ‘residing’ there.”
In other words, lawyers for Gov. Jim Justice say, it’s not so simple.
Nevertheless, the lawyers contend, Justice complies with the West Virginia Constitution’s residency requirement.
The lawyers, in written documents and in comments to reporters, take a broad view of what residency means.
“You can have more than one residence, and he resides in the Capitol and he resides wherever he chooses on a nightly basis,” Mike Carey, a former U.S. Attorney now defending Justice, told reporters after a hearing last week.
“But the fact remains he continues to perform his duties as governor in his discretion, and he resides as the Constitution requires in Charleston.”
The question of the governor’s residence continues to makes its way through the legal system in West Virginia.
The state Constitution says governor and other members of the Board of Public Works must live at the seat of government. But Justice has said he makes his home in Lewisburg, a couple of hours from the Capitol.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, acting as a citizen, has challenged the governor’s residency in court. Sponaugle is asking for the governor to be compelled to reside at the seat of government.
Justice has long described continuing to make his home in a tree-lined Lewisburg neighborhood where he has lived for years. It’s 112 miles — about an hour and 46 minutes — to drive from Lewisburg to Charleston.
“Most all my time, I’m in Greenbrier County,” Justice said in August, 2017. “I don’t have any problem driving. I don’t have any problem with availability.”
In June, the governor told a group of citizens at a town hall that he often stays in Lewisburg because of health concerns, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
“There’s all kinds of reasons from the knees down to my toes, from all kinds of things, that make my life better if I can make it home. I stay when I need to stay, but I don’t miss anything,” Justice told the town hall.
Last week, the day before a court hearing in the residency case, Justice told reporters he stays near the Capitol when it’s convenient.
“From time to time, if it’s convenient, I surely stay here and everything,” Justice said. “But I’m all over the state all the time. If it’s not convenient and I can stay in my own bed, I want to stay in my own bed.”
Sponaugle, the plaintiff in the residency case, suggests such comments are a charade.
“All I’ve asked the man to do is follow the Constitution, and he has the inability to do that,” said Sponaugle, D-Pendleton.
Sponaugle, in his legal filings, draws a connection between Justice’s residency and how his administration is managing every day issues such as road repair or flood recovery.
“I think the people care that the governor is not showing up to work because he’s not residing there. I think they’re related. I do believe they expect our governor to follow the Constitution and the rule of law. Nobody is above it,” he said.
“Frankly, I don’t believe the average citizen gets that sense from this governor at all, that he follows any rules. He just marches to the beat of his own drum. Rules, they don’t apply to Jim Justice.”
Justice’s lawyers, in their court filings and verbal comments, say the governor meets the constitutional requirement for residency.
They say the meaning of residency needs to be flexible because of the shifting demands of the job.
Asked by reporters how residency was defined during last week’s court hearing, Justice attorney George Terwilliger responded, “I didn’t state a definition. That’s the nub of the problem in terms of what it means.”
“The governor’s position is that he’s meeting the requirement of the Constitution and doing the people’s business every day,” continued Terwilliger, a former Deputy U.S. Attorney General now working for the McGuireWoods law firm in Washington, D.C.
Sponaugle asked a series of written questions as part of the discovery phase of the circuit court case. Discovery is now halted while the judge decides whether to ask the Supreme Court for guidance.
But the lawyers for Justice provided initial responses to Sponaugle’s questions, objecting to most.
One question was “Describe in detail why you contend that you can reside in Greenbrier County, West Virginia and don’t have to reside in Charleston, West Virginia, regarding the official duties of your office as governor.”
The lawyers for Justice objected to that one over the meaning of “reside,” but also because the governor is performing the duties of his office in Charleston and elsewhere.
The attorneys said Justice’s “physical location on any given day is a matter for him to decide in accordance with the judgment, autonomy and discretion inherent with his office.
“Finally, Respondent states that he does ‘reside’ in Charleston as specified in the Constitution of West Virginia, in that he has a residence there, maintains the Office of the Governor there, and is physically present there as often as he needs to be as determined by the judgment, autonomy and discretion inherent in his office.”
Another question was “Identify your full name, address, and date of birth.”
The lawyers responded that the name is “James Conley Justice, II” and the date of birth is “April 27, 1951.”
The address, they said, is a more complicated matter.
“Respondent objects to this request as vague insofar as Respondent has more than one address. Without waiving said objection, given that this action has been filed against Respondent in his official capacity as the Governor of the State of West Virginia, Respondent states that the Office of the Governor is located at the West Virginia State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, WV 25305.”