‘Stunned, angered’ House judiciary chairman says it’s time to focus on judicial spending accountability

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When the 2018 Regular Legislative Session begins in January, lawmakers will most likely again see a resolution clearing the way for a vote on a Constitutional Amendment allowing for legislative oversight when it comes to the judicial budget.

John Shott

In 2016, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Shott (R-Mercer, 27) sponsored such a resolution and he said he has plans to do the same in the New Year.

“We’re the only state where the Legislature, which supposedly under our system has the power of the purse, is limited in that respect,” Shott said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“In other words, the judiciary basically writes its own check.”

That proposed resolution is probably going to get more attention this time.

Judicial spending in the Mountain State has become a publicly debated issue following revelations of extensive Supreme Court renovation expenses, as first reported by WCHS-TV’s Kennie Bass earlier this week in a “Waste Watch Exclusive Investigation.”

At their start around 2009, the Supreme Court renovations were projected to cost $900,000.

Since then, the costs have climbed to $3.7 million, Bass reported.

Among the furnishings Bass showed in Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s office was a $32,000 sectional sofa with $1,700 worth of throw pillows.

“Steve Canterbury, the prior administrative director of this court, was solely responsible for a $32,000 couch and I think it’s absolutely outrageous,” Loughry said earlier this week.

Canterbury, who was fired in January, claimed Loughry chose the fabric for the couch personally.

Shott noted the historic nature of the State Capitol and said it was “appropriate and necessary” to fund work to preserve that.

“I don’t have any problem with the portion of those expenditures that went to that end, but I was stunned and angered by the amount that was spent for some of the furnishings that are more temporary,” he said.

In all, WCHS-TV reported renovations to Chief Justice Loughry’s office totaled $363,000.

The other chamber renovation costs were also follows:
Justice Menis Ketchum $193,909
Justice Beth Walker $130,654
Justice Margaret Workman $111,035
Justice Robin Davis $500,278

Currently, the Legislature has no control over how the $142 million allocated annually for the West Virginia general revenue judicial budget is spent.

With the Supreme Court spending revelations, “This is an appropriate time to debate that issue and let the people decide whether they think there needs to be accountability,” Shott told Hoppy Kercheval.

“We’ve had some very difficult financial times. We have state employees at nearly every agency that are not well paid,” he said. “The thought that someone would spend that kind of money on a piece of furniture in view of those situations is just really troubling.”

In order for a Constitutional amendment to be put before state residents for a vote, two-thirds of the members of the state Senate and state House of Delegates must approve the resolution.

The 2018 Regular Legislative Session begins on Wednesday, Jan. 10 and runs through Saturday, March 10.

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