You are the owner of this article.

WV gov.'s residency case moves closer to state Supreme Court

A legal battle over where West Virginia’s governor sleeps at night inched closer to a state Supreme Court review this week.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King laid out his reasons for keeping the case alive and temporarily halted proceedings in two orders filed Monday. The orders explicitly note Gov. Jim Justice’s previously stated intent to appeal the case to the state’s highest court.

Thus, the case of a Democrat lawmaker suing a Republican governor (whose representation includes a former ranking member of the U.S. Department of Justice) for where he lives seems to be heading toward the state’s five Supreme Court justices, three of whom were appointed by Justice.

“The ball is moving toward the West Virginia Supreme Court at the moment,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, who has been representing himself in the case since summer 2018.

Although Justice’s attorneys previously stated their intent to appeal King’s decision not to dismiss the case, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said Friday the court had not received any appeal in the case.

In his order, King reasoned that a court can force a public official to perform duties that are both discretionary and nondiscretionary.

Justice’s attorneys have argued that a court can compel a public official to perform a specific nondiscretionary duty, but not something more subjective or discretionary, like where to live.

The West Virginia Constitution and state law require the governor to reside in Charleston, although the governor’s attorneys have argued that residency is too vague a word for a court to rule on. Justice has said publicly he lives in Lewisburg.

Even if King were to side with Justice in that residency is a discretionary duty, the judge essentially said he can require that Justice exercise that discretion if the evidence shows he isn’t already.

Part of King’s ruling denied a request from Justice to formally ask the Supreme Court several questions about residency and enforcement under the state constitution.

In an interview, Sponaugle said Justice has been publicly admitting he lives in Lewisburg, while representing to the court he resides at the seat of government, as the law requires. King’s order, Sponaugle said, means the court will need to take evidence and, possibly, a deposition from Justice to determine where he lives.

“Despite efforts by detractors to distract and obstruct, Governor Justice continues to focus on growing the economy, creating good jobs, fixing the roads and addressing the opioid crisis,” Brian Abraham, general counsel to Justice, said in an emailed statement late Friday. “He didn’t run for office to sit behind his desk all day and throw lavish parties at the Governor’s Mansion. While he’s frequently at the Capitol attending to official business, Governor Justice continues to travel to every corner of the state to meet West Virginians where they live so he can hear their concerns directly.”

If King’s decision is appealed, the Supreme Court can choose whether it takes up the case. Sponaugle predicted that the justices won’t take it up until the lower court handles the document discovery process and evidentiary proceedings.

The newest justices on the court — Tim Armstead, Evan Jenkins and John Hutchison — were appointed by the governor. Armstead and Jenkins each won elections to their seat in 2018.

An undercurrent of Sponaugle’s case is an argument of Justice being an absentee governor. Several gubernatorial candidates from both parties have picked up on this depiction and campaigned on showing up for work everyday in contrast, often citing Sponaugle’s lawsuit.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at

jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow

@jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Abner, James - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Black, Thomas - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Bowcott, Doris - 1 p.m., Mt. Union Church, Pliny.

Dolin, Clayton - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Harper, Brandon - 1 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Hively, Thomas - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Kirk, William - 8 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

McDonald, Jeremy - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Rollins, Melvin - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Short, Elizabeth - 1:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Simpkins, Anthony - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Stone Jr., Darrell - 2 p.m., Smith Cemetery, Leon.

Thorne, Thomas - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.