Gov. Jim Justice has hired a former acting U.S. attorney general for a lawsuit over the governor not physically living in Charleston, as a Pendleton County delegate says the West Virginia Constitution requires.
Documents filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on Monday show Justice’s attorney on the case, Michael Carey, moved to bring in George Terwilliger — a Washington D.C., attorney — to assist.
Terwilliger served as the deputy U.S. attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, before temporarily ascending to acting attorney general following the departure of William Barr (who now is the attorney general for President Donald Trump).
Terwilliger works for McGuire Woods, a prominent D.C. law firm, where he is co-head of the firm’s white-collar practice and “strategic response and crisis management” practice group, according to the firm’s website. He recently represented former Illinois congressman Aaron Schock, who was accused of misspending campaign and government funds for his personal benefit.
State Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, re-filed the current case against the governor in September 2018, after a technical error sunk his original, nearly identical lawsuit last summer. Sponaugle argued that the constitution is clear in requiring the governor to live “at the seat of government” and that Justice, a Republican, flouts this by living in Lewisburg.
Attorneys for Justice asked Circuit Judge Charles King to dismiss the case on the basis that the notion of residency is too vague for a court to define, and a judge forcing the governor to spend his time in a given location would mark a violation of the separation of judicial and executive powers.
In an interview, Sponaugle said he found humor in representing himself while the governor hires people like Carey — who successfully secured guilty pleas against Gov. Arch Moore — and Terwilliger behind him.
“I’m just a little old country lawyer from Pendleton County, and I’m taking on the most powerful man in state government, the state’s only billionaire; a former U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted Arch Moore; and now, a former U.S. attorney general,” Sponaugle said.
Along with bringing in new legal help, Justice’s attorneys formally denied Sponaugle’s charge that Justice lives in Lewisburg in violation of the constitution. They also made a motion for King to ask the West Virginia Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the circuit court can dictate the governor’s residency, whether as much would violate the separation of powers, and similar legal issues. They also asked King to declare his findings of fact behind rejecting their motion to dismiss, and to stay the case until the higher court weighs in.
According to data from the State Auditor’s Office, the Governor’s Office has paid Carey’s firm about $45,000 since April 2018, although Carey has assisted the office with other matters. Carey bills the state $350 per hour for senior attorneys.
Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, said the governor brought in Terwilliger in the event that Justice is implicated personally. He said Justice is paying for the legal services out of his own pocket.
Terwilliger and Carey could not be reached for comment for this report.