10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Justice Loughry’s federal trial starts with 2 interpretations of wrongdoing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The historic trial of Justice Allen Loughry began today in federal court, with both sides acknowledging the case actually began when Loughry raised concerns about spending at the state Supreme Court.

Federal prosecutor Philip Wright told jurors that investigators initially set out to check Loughry’s claims, “but which swirled around and came back to him.”

Loughry’s lawyer, John Carr, confirmed that the justice himself will take the stand over the course of the trial. He urged jurors to listen to Loughry’s own words.

Suspended Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry

“You are going to hear from Justice Loughry,” Carr said. “Please do not make up your mind until you hear the sworn testimony from the stand and hear the other side — without the news, without the political bickering, without careers on the line.”

Loughry originally faced 25 federal charges, but three were dismissed voluntarily by prosecutors before opening statements even began. Those charges had to do with an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk Loughry was accused of taking home from the Capitol, and a related obstruction charge.

The remaining charges against Loughry, the author of “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia,” accuse him of mail fraud, wire fraud, tampering with a witness and lying to federal agents.

The book came up repeatedly on just the first day of the trial.

“Justice Loughry is very proud of his book,” said his attorney, Carr. “You know what happens when you write a book like that? It makes a lot of people very angry.”

Each side provided opening statements this morning before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver. The jury of 10 women and 2 men also heard from the first witness, FBI agent Jim Lafferty.

Federal prosecutors said they will lay out a nuts and bolts case that weaves together witness testimony, travel records, cell phone tower records, financial accounts and purchasing card history.

“All these puzzle pieces add up to a picture of the fraud committed by the defendant,” said Wright, who warned jurors that much of the evidence could be dry.

Wright concluded his opening statement by telling jurors, “We will ask you to return the only verdict consistent with the evidence — guilty as to each count.”

Loughry’s lawyer, Carr, immediately went to work raising doubt in jurors’ minds. He characterized much of the information the government would present as unreliable or spun in a way to be political payback against Loughry.

He said the jury would have to decide to convict based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, “not based on fake news, not based on political scores that need to be settled.”

Carr concluded, “The government will fail to provide its evidence beyond a reasonable doubt because it’s not true.”

Public controversy has surrounded Loughry for more than a year now as he faced allegation after allegation about the expensive remodeling of his office, his use of state vehicle for private travel and his moving an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk from the state Capitol to his home.

The scandals started with WCHS-TV reports about the office renovation. Loughry, in those television reports, initially blamed fired Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury.

Loughry went to federal investigators with his concerns, prompting them to dig into Supreme Court finances.

The first witness, FBI agent Lafferty, described an initial meeting Nov. 20, 2017, at the state Capitol with Loughry, Justice Margaret Workman, then-administrator Gary Johnson and Sue Racer-Troy, the court’s top financial officer, among others.

The case expanded, Lafferty said, when “we started talking to individuals and looking at other evidence. We saw some things that gave us concern. Other spending and use of state vehicles.”

Testimony continued through the afternoon, with prosecutors beginning to lay out pieces of the puzzle they described — and with Loughry’s attorney suggesting the pieces don’t add up.

Retired Justice Thomas McHugh took the stand and spoke about the history of the court, including Cass Gilbert’s role. He said he was aware of a “Cass Gilbert” desk and had one in his office when he was a justice.

“It’s a very beautiful desk,” McHugh said. “It has different types of wood. It’s large and heavy.”

Carr asked if McHugh could pinpoint the specific history of such desks.

“Do you know who made these desks?” Loughry’s lawyer asked.

“I don’t know who made them, no,” McHugh said.

“Do you know where they were purchased?” Carr asked.

“I don’t know where they were purchased,” McHugh said.

McHugh was also asked about whether justices were allowed to have home offices. That has been one of Loughry’s explanations for having state computer equipment, the “Cass Gilbert” desk and another former justice’s couch at his home.

McHugh said there was no expectation of using a computer when he first joined the court but that he later had access to a computer, printer and iPad. As for a workstation at home, “My desk is a kit from Sears my wife put together.”

Sarah Thompson, a longtime Supreme Court employee, testified about a conversation she had with Loughry when he was still a law clerk working for the Court and not yet a justice.

Thompson said she was helping Loughry with some research and happened to sit at his desk. She is significantly shorter than the lanky Loughry, so the desktop was about at eye level. Then she noticed it was propped up.

“I asked him why not get another desk,” Thompson said. “He told me he liked his desk and that it was a ‘Cass Gilbert’ desk.”

Much of that kind of testimony is meant to get at the significance of the antique desks and whether Loughry was aware of it.

Carr, on cross-examination, asked Thompson if she had ever relayed that story until federal investigators showed up this past year.

“You’d read it in the paper, seen it on the news,” he suggested. “Was this the first time you’d ever recounted this conversation?”

Thompson responded, “Probably.”

Thompson, in her current role at the court, helped Loughry with paperwork that included per diem requests for out-of-town trips. She described a form he filled out indicating he had driven a state vehicle to a conference in Baltimore.

Two witnesses described Loughry seeking reimbursement from out-of-state conferences.

The conference in Baltimore was described by witness Mary Collishaw, who works for a think tank for the civil justice system in Washington, D.C. She described repaying Loughry more than $400 for his mileage.

Another witness, Diana Sawyer, described working through reimbursement for Loughry for a trip to American University’s law school, one of his alma maters.

Carr asked both of those witnesses questions about how their policies would differentiate between someone driving a personal vehicle or any other kind of vehicle such as a rental or a state vehicle.

The trial’s first day ended with the Supreme Court’s financial officer, Racer-Troy, testifying about how the court tracks state vehicles and purchasing cards.

Her testimony is expected to continue when the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

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