CHARLESTON – Officials and state leaders continue to discuss spending at the West Virginia Supreme Court and how to deal with it.
WCHS/WVAH Eyewitness News reporter Kennie Bass first detailed the expenditures in a Nov. 13 report. Since 2009, the state Supreme Court offices have undergone extensive renovations. The original price tag was about $900,000. But it since has grown to more than $3.7 million.
Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s chambers has seen renovations to the tune of $363,000. That includes a sectional sofa that cost nearly $32,000 including $1,700 in throw pillows.
Currently, the state Supreme Court has no oversight of its budget by the Legislature. It submits a budget request to lawmakers, and it is approved “provided that no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased.” West Virginia is the only state in the nation with such an arrangement. The judicial budget for this fiscal year is $142 million.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, sponsored a resolution in 2016 to clear the way for a vote on a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more control of the judicial budget. And he says he plans to introduce a similar resolution during the session that begins in January.
“We’re the only state where the Legislature, which supposedly under our system has the power of the purse, is limited in that respect,” Shott told Hoppy Kercheval on the Nov. 16 edition of MetroNews “Talkline” statewide radio program. “In other words, the judiciary basically writes its own check.”
Shott told Kercheval he knows it is “appropriate and necessary” to fund work to preserve the historic nature of the state Capitol.
“I don’t have any problem with the portion of those expenditures that went to that end, but I was stunned and angered by the amount that was spent for some of the furnishings that are more temporary,” he said. “We’ve had some very difficult financial times. We have state employees at nearly every agency that are not well paid.
“The thought that someone would spend that kind of money on a piece of furniture in view of those situations is just really troubling. … This is an appropriate time to debate that issue and let the people decide whether they think there needs to be accountability.”
For a constitutional amendment to be put before residents, two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature have to approve such a resolution.
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse called the spending “frivolous” and “unfortunate,” and he blamed former Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury. Loughry led the push in January to fire Canterbury, and he also has blamed Canterbury for the renovation spending.
“For many years, Canterbury called our support for the creation of an intermediate court of appeals a ‘multi-million dollar adventure’ and expressed concern about the cost of such a court, which would guarantee West Virginians a full right of appeal,” WVCALA’s Roman Stauffer told The West Virginia Record. “We hope Chief Justice Loughry will work with legislators to root out additional wasteful spending in our judicial system and apply those savings toward the creation of an intermediate court of appeals.”
The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice said his group always seeks to uphold the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“The reporting on this issue demonstrates the critical importance of a free and robust press as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” David Hammer told The Record. “West Virginians have the right to learn the whole truth about the conduct of their government, either through additional investigative reporting or, if there are factual disputes, through the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial.
“Ultimately, elections are the final check and balance upon elected officials, because truly, your vote is your voice.”