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SUPCO: Residency case against Justice can continue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court has ruled a state lawmaker’s case against Gov. Jim Justice in connection with his decision not to live in Charleston can move forward in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Justice Evan Jenkins

In a decision handed down Friday afternoon, authored by Justice Evan Jenkins, who was acting as chief justice on the case, the Court refused Justice’s request to overturn the rulings Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charlie King has already made in the case. The Court denied Justice’s request for a writ of prohibition.

MORE Read opinion here

“We conclude that the Circuit Court of Kanawha County had jurisdiction, did not exceed its legitimate powers, and did not clearly err when it denied Governor Justice’s motion to dismiss Mr. Sponaugle’s petition for writ of mandamus. Therefore, we deny the requested writ to prohibit enforcement of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County’s October 21, 2019 order.”

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, acting as a citizen, has challenged the governor’s residency. Justice doesn’t live in Charleston. He commutes form his home in Lewisburg. Sponaugle has asked for the governor to be compelled to reside at the seat of government in accordance to the state Constitution.

Isaac Sponaugle

The case has been in Kanawha Circuit Court, awaiting the possibility of more fact-gathering. But lawyers for the governor asked the Supreme Court to review whether the case should go forward at all. The case was the subject of oral arguments on Oct. 14.

“One of the important rulings they made that there is a constitutional duty to reside at the seat of the government and that a citizen and taxpayer has a right to enforce the Constitution against the executive branch,” Sponaugle told MetroNews when contacted Friday afternoon.

He said the case, which is still before Judge King, will now go to discovery stage.

“There’s been very limited discovery back and forth. There is no record,” Sponaugle said. “There will have to be some evidence gathered and then presented to Judge King, so there will be a record there and then the judge will make the determination if the governor has met the definition of reside.”

Attorneys for Gov. Justice have argued the word “reside” in the state Constitution is discretionary. Jenkins wrote that’s not the case.

Governor Justice

“In other words, the Governor argues that “reside” is a discretionary duty and that he must be able to come and go as the duties of his office require without interference or regulation from the courts. And, that he is physically present in Charleston as often as he needs to be “as determined by the judgment, autonomy, and discretion inherent in his office.” We agree that, if mandamus were to regulate the comings and goings of the Governor, such action would violate separation of powers principles. We disagree, however, that “residing” is a matter of discretion, and we also disagree that granting mandamus to enforce the Governor’s mandatory duty to reside in Charleston would take the form of regulating the comings and goings of the Governor.”

The order further said Judge King can order Justice to reside in Charleston through a writ of mandamus and that King did not err when he refused to dismiss Sponaugle’s case.

“Accordingly, we hold that the duty of executive officers to reside at the seat of government, as required by Section 1 of Article VII of the West Virginia Constitution, is a mandatory, non-discretionary duty for which a writ of mandamus may lie to require compliance with that duty,” the Court wrote.

Judge Charlie King

Jenkins further wrote, “The public has a reasonable expectation that its elected officials will uphold the duties of their offices/positions and follow the law, and writs of mandamus to compel compliance with these obligations will be issued when deemed necessary by the courts. Accordingly, given the high standard for the issuance of a writ of prohibition by this Court, Governor Justice has failed to meet his burden to show that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate powers. He has not shown that the circuit court clearly erred in denying his motion to dismiss the petition for writ of mandamus, and as such, the petition for writ of prohibition must be denied.”

Justice, who was reelected earlier this month, has longed argued he doesn’t need to live in Charleston to do his job.

MORE Read concurring opinion here

Justice Margaret Workman agreed with the opinion and wrote a concurring opinion. Justice John Hutchison dissented and received the write to file a dissenting opinion. Chief Judge Tim Armstead did not take part in the case because of his former rule as House of Delegates speaker.

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