Former delegate sues governor over residency again

West Virginia

This photo shows the West Virginia governor’s mansion on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Charleston, W.Va. A persistent lawsuit is drawing on the state constitution in an effort to force Republican Gov. Jim Justice to live at the governor’s mansion. Democratic Del. Isaac Sponaugle filed the case and accuses Justice of violating a passage in the state Constitution that says the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.” The result has been a long legal back and forth centered on the definition of the word reside. A judge requested more documents from both sides after a brief court hearing Wednesday. (AP Photo/Anthony Izaguirre)

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – A former West Virginia delegate says he plans to sue West Virginia Governor Jim Justice again over his choice of residence.

Earlier this year, Justice announced he agreed to live in the governor’s mansion in Charleston, the state’s seat of government, which ended the nearly three-year challenge over his residency.

Then-delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton) sued the governor in 2018 seeking a court order to make Justice move into the mansion and fulfill what Sponaugle called “his official mandatory duty.” Over the course of the initial lawsuit, the governor defended his decision to continue living in his Lewisburg home although the state constitution says the governor “shall reside at the seat of government” in Charleston.

However, Sponaugle says Justice hasn’t kept to that agreement and has sent a certified letter of intent to sue to Justice. This will be the fourth lawsuit from the former lawmaker regarding the governor’s residency. Sponaugle’s initial petition for a lawsuit was thrown out because the lawmaker allegedly didn’t provide the state advanced notice of the lawsuit in Sept. 2018. The second was dismissed on a technicality because the governor’s lawyers claimed the constitution didn’t define “reside” and said Justice’s use of the mansion complied with the constitution. A hearing for a third suit was initially set in 2019 and ended with the agreement earlier this year.

“Jim Justice hasn’t lived up to his word that he would reside at the seat of government,” Sponaugle said. “It’s his choice on how this will proceed, but he will reside at the seat of government, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as long as he remains governor of the state of West Virginia.”

In response to Sponaugle’s Writ of Mandamus, the governor’s counsel, Michael W. Carey and Steven R. Ruby, issued the following statement:

“We were disappointed to see Mr. Sponaugle grasping for media attention by trying to revive this pointless case, which he already took $65,000 in state money for settling once. It’s simply out of touch with the objective facts of Governor Justice’s accomplishments, which exceed those of any administration in memory,” The statement read.

The lawyers said these accomplishments include transforming a $500 million budget deficit into annual surpluses, nearly doubling the state’s Rainy Day Fund from when he took office to more than $1 billion, authorizing two of the largest-ever pay raises to teachers and state employees, and his early-stage COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan among others.

“The people of West Virginia know exactly how hard Governor Justice works and how much he’s accomplished for the state. They know he’s on the job for them every day, either in Charleston or out among the 99% of West Virginians who don’t live in the capital,” The lawyers continued. “And they know his commitment to the state is matched only by his commitment to young people; when he’s not solving the state’s problems, he’s mentoring youngsters as a volunteer high-school basketball coach. That’s why he has a 70% approval rating and won re-election by 38 points last year, even after Mr. Sponaugle first sought attention for himself with these claims. If Mr. Sponaugle is looking for a boost in his next political race, it’s unfortunate that this is how he’s decided to pursue it, because West Virginians know better.”

In the West Virginia Constitution, Article VII, Section 1 states:

The executive department shall consist of a governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and attorney general, who shall be ex officio reporter of the court of appeals. Their terms of office shall be four years, and shall commence on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of January next after their election. They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.

West Virginia Constitution, Article VII, Section 1

According to Sponaugle, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued an opinion in November 2020 that “reside” in the state constitution means to live primarily at the seat of government and that during their terms of office, the executive officials’ “principal place of physical presence” is to be the seat of government.

“Jim Justice needs to decide what he wants to do with his time. He’s a part-time Governor, part-time businessman, and part-time basketball coach. The only thing that he’s doing full-time is residing in Greenbrier County. That’s going to end, and he will abide by the Constitution whether he likes it or not,” Sponaugle said.

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