Gov. Jim Justice has agreed to “reside” in Charleston as part of a settlement reached Monday in a court case regarding the governor’s residency during his term.
The settlement brings to an end the case of whether Justice was violating Section 1, Article 7 of the West Virginia Constitution by refusing to live in the Governor’s Mansion on the Capitol grounds or elsewhere in Charleston.
Per the terms of the settlement, Justice said he intends to live in Charleston “consistent with the definition of ‘reside’ in the Supreme Court of Appeals’ opinion.”
Additionally, the governor agreed to pay former West Virginia House of Delegates member Isaac Sponaugle, who brought the lawsuit against Justice as a private citizen, $65,000.
A spokesperson for Justice did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Sponaugle said he and the governor’s attorneys had worked for the past two weeks to reach a settlement, and he felt like it was a good resolution for both parties in a case that he said he originally expected to take about 6 months to resolve.
“It’s extremely rewarding that our old constitution still has a little bit of oomph to it,” Sponaugle said. “You just gotta stick up for it every now and then. You can’t just roll over and play dead.”
The settlement comes a little more than three months after the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sponaugle, saying that “’reside’ means to live, primarily, at the seat of government and requires that the executive officials’ principal place of physical presence is the seat of government for the duration of his or her term of office.”
Sponaugle was a delegate from Pendleton County who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party’s nomination for attorney general in 2020.
The settlement was signed by Senior Status Circuit Judge Dan O’Hanlon, who has presided over the case in Kanawha Circuit Court since January, following the death of Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King Jr., on Dec. 28.
Sponaugle filed the lawsuit against Justice in August 2018, but King dismissed the case after determining that Sponaugle hadn’t given proper notice to the Governor’s Office about the lawsuit.
Sponaugle refiled the case in September 2018.
In July 2019, King rejected a motion from the governor’s attorneys to dismiss the case. In the same order, King told Justice’s attorneys to send questions to the Supreme Court to help define the legal meaning of “residence.”
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in October 2020, when Sponaugle said there is a commonly accepted understanding of what it means when someone says they reside in a certain place, and he wanted the court to establish that understanding as the legal definition of “reside.”
George Terwilliger, of Washington, D.C.-based McGuire Woods and one of the governor’s attorneys, argued in October that he agreed the constitution requires the governor to live in Charleston, but what it meant to reside — how much time he spent in Charleston, working or otherwise — was at Justice’s discretion.
The governor has stated that he splits time between Charleston and his home in Lewisburg. This is most notable during high school basketball season, which occurs annually during part of the West Virginia legislative session. Justice has long served as head coach of the Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team.
In a 4-1 opinion handed down in November, the court determined that “reside” is not a discretionary term and that it is not a violation of separation of powers for justices or circuit judges to rule in the case, given that it deals with the enforcement of a provision of the constitution.
Executive officials — including the governor — whom the constitution says must reside at the seat of government should establish the seat of government as their “home base,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins wrote.
The justices remanded the case back to Kanawha Circuit Court, but, with the settlement in place, O’Hanlon dismissed the case. Once the Supreme Court issued its ruling in November and Justice’s attorneys reached out to him, there was no point to belabor the case, Sponaugle said.
Sponaugle said his goal all along was simply to get Justice to comply with the constitution.
“I wanted him to reside in the seat of state government,” Sponaugle said. “Checks and balances will not do a thing unless you stand up and argue for them, often times in court. You need to protect those rights, and that’s what I did.”