Suspended West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry didn’t deny he took trips in state vehicles and had state-owned furniture in his home.
However, Loughry told the jurors who will determine his fate that it was his understanding he was allowed to use those state resources to promote the Supreme Court and to complete court work from home.
During the fifth day of his trial, Loughry said other court officials, including former justice Brent Benjamin, either lied or misremembered certain conversations, and other court employees, including former court administrator Steve Canterbury, told him his actions were acceptable and even facilitated his use of those resources.
“Did I intend to defraud the state? No,” Loughry testified Monday.
Loughry was the first witness to take the stand in his defense after Assistant U.S. Attorneys Phillip Wright and Greg McVey rested their case at 1:40 p.m. Monday.
Monday morning, Wright and McVey called four witnesses to the stand, including Deborah Rada, the neighbor who took now-infamous photographs of Loughry and state Supreme Court employees moving a state-owned couch from his home in November 2017.
Canterbury has been named as a witness in Loughry’s case, and he was in the courthouse Monday afternoon. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver ended the day in the middle of Loughry’s testimony, so Canterbury did not testify Monday.
Loughry will return to the stand when the trial reconvenes at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The 10 women and two men on the jury could begin deliberations in Loughry’s case as early as Tuesday.
He is represented by Charleston attorney John Carr.
‘Cass Gilbert desk’
Even though he now knows that certain furniture in the West Virginia Capitol has the distinction of being “Cass Gilbert” furniture, Loughry said he didn’t understand until November 2017 that desk in his home, which previously had been in his office as a law clerk, was a “Cass Gilbert desk.”
Loughry said he didn’t recall people talking about Cass Gilbert desks the way that Supreme Court employees testified during the trial.
Loughry worked as a law clerk for the Supreme Court from 2003 until Jan. 1, 2013, when he took office as a Supreme Court justice.
On Oct. 3, Sara Thompson, director of education and access to justice for the court, testified that Loughry, when he was a law clerk with the court, said he liked his office desk, even though it was too short for him, because it was a Cass Gilbert desk and had historical significance.
On Friday, former Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin testified that he once visited Loughry’s office when Loughry was a law clerk and told Loughry how impressed he was that Loughry had a Cass Gilbert desk.
“He smiled and said, ‘Yes, I’m very fortunate to have it. It’s very historical,’ ” Benjamin said during testimony.
On Monday, Loughry said he didn’t recall the conversation with Thompson, and what Benjamin said on the stand wasn’t true.
“I know it’s not nice to use these words, but either he’s flat-out lying or he’s misremembering [the conversation],” Loughry testified.
Three current Supreme Court security employees all said they recalled references to the Cass Gilbert desk in Loughry’s home as they moved the furniture from his home the week of Nov. 27, 2017, when news reports came out about the state furniture being at his house.
Loughry called the media attention surrounding the furniture “ridiculous.”
“All of the sudden, when all of this comes out in the media, this stuff becomes folklore,” Loughry said.
On Monday, Loughry testified that he thought he had an old historical desk in his office that he said Steve Canterbury had someone move to Loughry’s home in December 2012, weeks before Loughry took office.
Previous testimony indicated that Loughry had the desk moved to his home by a state-contracted company on June 20, 2013.
From the witness stand, Loughry said he still didn’t believe the desk that had been in his home was a Cass Gilbert desk because his personal definition of such a desk was different from the one commonly understood at the Capitol.
None of the federal charges against Loughry have to do with his actual possession of the desk. Instead, he’s charged with lying to federal investigators about his knowledge of whether the desk in his home was known to have a distinction of being a Cass Gilbert desk.
Cass Gilbert desks in the West Virginia Capitol are called such because they are furniture that was selected by architects and designers with Cass Gilbert’s architecture firm during the construction of the Capitol.
Loughry said his personal definition of a piece of Cass Gilbert furniture would be an item personally designed by the famed architect.
Loughry also had other personal definitions or understandings about state polices, he testified Monday.
‘A court-related purpose’
Federal prosecutors closed their case Monday morning by presenting a single report that combined state records and Loughry’s personal calendar to show that Loughry used state vehicles and credit cards to take personal trips.
Loughry said multiple times that he never took state vehicles for personal use. His definition of “personal use” included using the vehicles to “go to a concert or golfing,” he testified.
“Any time I took a state vehicle and went somewhere, it was because there was a court-related purpose,” Loughry said.
Jim Powers, an investigator with the West Virginia Commission for Special Investigations compiled the report from state credit card transactions, Supreme Court vehicle reservations and E-ZPass records, and from Loughry’s personal calendar from June 2013 to January 2018.
Most of the data showed the vehicles reserved by Loughry traveled to areas that corresponded with the plans the suspended justice had written in his personal calendar, including a visit to the Lewis County Courthouse with an overnight stay in Loughry’s native Parsons, Tucker County, and multiple book-signing events at The Greenbrier resort, in White Sulphur Springs.
Loughry testified Monday that Canterbury offered to facilitate 24/7 use of a state vehicle for Loughry when he first became a justice. He said he made a personal decision to decline that offer, but he said he often used state vehicles to travel to promote the Supreme Court and conduct other court business throughout the state.
Loughry said he considered his book-signing events at The Greenbrier to be events promoting the Supreme Court. He testified that, when court business took him to parts of the state near his native Tucker County, he would stay with his parents to avoid putting the cost of a hotel room on the state’s tab.
Some of the counts of wire fraud against Loughry allege that he used the state credit cards associated with the government vehicle to purchase gas even though he was not conducting state business, effectively defrauding the government.
Loughry also testified that he didn’t have any intention to defraud American University or the Pound Civil Justice Institute when he sought and received reimbursement from those entities for events he attended.
The three mail fraud charges are to do with Loughry receiving two reimbursement checks via mail, and the third accuses Loughry of sending an email using out-of-state servers to provide information to American University that led to him wrongly receiving those checks.
- Rada, Loughry’s neighbor, testified briefly before the jury of 10 women and two men Monday morning.
By the time she took the photo of Loughry watching three court employees move the couch from his home on Nov. 27, 2017, Rada said, she’d seen state-owned vehicles, marked by their green and white license plates, at Loughry’s home multiple times.
Not only were the vehicles at the house, but Rada testified that she saw Loughry and his wife, Kelly, load luggage into the state vehicles before they and their son got inside and left their home.
On one occasion near Christmas, Rada said, she saw the Loughrys load luggage and gifts into a vehicle before leaving their home.
- Loughry denied that he was trying to sway Kim Ellis, the court’s director of administrative services, into lying to federal investigators when he asked her if she recalled a previous conversation about office renovations at the court.
Audio from a meeting Ellis secretly recorded in October 2017 showed that Loughry asked Ellis if she remembered him telling her he wanted his office renovations to cost less than those of former Supreme Court justice Menis Ketchum’s and current Chief Justice Margaret Workman. In the recording, Ellis said she didn’t remember the conversation.
“Were you trying to intimidate her,” Carr asked Loughry.
“No,” Loughry testified.
- Loughry also said he couldn’t remember specifically approving a statement to the news media sent out by Jennifer Bundy, public information officer for the court, in November 2017.
On Friday, Bundy testified that Loughry had the state-owned furniture in his home as part of a “longstanding policy” that allowed the justices to have home offices.
Bundy said she wasn’t personally familiar with the policy, but that Loughry, who was chief justice at the time, gave her the information and she wasn’t in a position to question his interpretation. Bundy said she didn’t send out statements to the media from Loughry without having his approval.
Based on that policy, Loughry said Monday, he assumed he’d approved Bundy’s email.
- FBI Special Agent Evan Horan also testified Monday morning, when he explained how investigators used data from cellphone towers to pinpoint Loughry’s locations during those times when other records showed he was using state vehicles.
Horan said he documented points where Loughry’s cellphone was used for calls or texts because that data provides a more accurate location than simply tracking which towers connected with the phone, although Horan said he did have that data, as well.
On the dates corresponding with Loughry’s vehicle reservations, phone calls and texts were made from Charleston, Parsons, White Sulphur Springs, Morgantown and near Martinsburg, Horan testified.
Loughry has been suspended from the bench since June 8. He is the subject of three cases accusing him of misconduct in office.
On June 6, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission filed a 32-count statement of charges accusing Loughry of violating the Judicial Code of Conduct, the ethical code for judges in West Virginia, by misusing state resources and lying to lawmakers about it.
The commission’s case is on hold pending the closure of the federal criminal case.
On Aug. 13, the West Virginia House of Delegates adopted 11 articles of impeachment against four current and former justices: Loughry, Workman, Beth Walker and Robin Davis.
Loughry is named in seven of those charges.
After a two-day impeachment trial, the West Virginia Senate voted Oct. 2 against removing Walker from office, opting instead for a public censure.
Loughry is scheduled to begin his trial for impeachment in the Senate on Nov. 13.