CHARLESTON – A federal judge made no decisions at a hearing held this week in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the state’s Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program.
Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, filed a one-page order last week setting an initial case management conference for Tuesday afternoon.
All lead or local counsel were directed to appear at the conference in person, according to Goodwin’s order.
In the federal lawsuit, plaintiff Michael Callaghan claims that the pilot program violates the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution by “unduly impinging upon protected political speech and association” as set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett.
Specifically, Callaghan — a Charleston attorney and former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party — argues that the matching funds provision of the program is unconstitutional.
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who serves as a member of the State Election Commission, along with Gary A. Collias, William N. Renzelli and Robert Rupp, were named as defendants in Callaghan’s suit.
In an order earlier this month, Goodwin granted Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry’s motion to intervene in the federal case over the pilot program, which was established in 2010 for candidates seeking a seat on the state’s high court.
Loughry, a Republican, is the only candidate in this year’s Court race to opt into the program, which state lawmakers passed in an attempt to reduce the influence of special interest money.
Loughry’s attorney, Marc Williams of the Huntington firm Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough; Silas Taylor, general counsel for the SEC; and Anthony Majestro, Callaghan’s attorney, were all present at the conference Tuesday.
According to Goodwin’s daybook entry, the meeting only lasted 35 minutes.
Both Williams and Majestro said Wednesday that they discussed with Goodwin the dates established in an Aug. 10 order and the deadlines in the case.
“The court wanted to see what the parties’ intentions were in light of the mandamus action pending in the Supreme Court of Appeals,” Williams explained.
He said his client prefers to let that proceeding play out since the briefing is already underway and the Supreme Court has already set oral arguments for Sept. 4.
“No decisions were made (Tuesday), but I suspect that we’ll know in the next few days if Callaghan is going to try to get Judge Goodwin to jump in front of the Supreme Court action,” Williams said.
Loughry sued in the state’s high court last month, seeking to force the SEC to follow the existing laws and provide his campaign with the additional funding.
In his 26-page petition for writ of mandamus, he argues that the SEC “failed to carry out the unambiguous duty” imposed under the pilot program.
“Through this failure, the commission violated the statutory command of W.Va. Code 3-12-11(e), which requires the commission to authorize the release of funds once a determination has been made that the conditions for a release of supplemental funds have been met,” his petition states.
“Due to the commission’s failure to follow the law and perform this ministerial duty, the commission also failed to perform its duty, working with the offices of the State Treasurer and State Auditor, to cause the funds to be disbursed to Petitioner Loughry’s campaign.”