CHARLESTON – Purchases and use of furnishings by West Virginia Supreme Court justices have come into the spotlight after an investigation into renovations at the court offices.
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 eventually grew to more than $3.7 million.
In the aftermath, lawmakers have expressed outrage about the Supreme Court budget and want to work to get a constitutional amendment before voters to give the Legislature more oversight on court money.
And this week, after it being mentioned in a Charleston Gazette-Mail political column, Chief Justice Allen Loughry had a leather couch removed from his home on Nov. 27. The couch had been purchased for late Justice Joe Albright and apparently was headed to surplus.
Then, on Nov. 30, Loughry had a state-owned desk removed from his home.
Loughry said the couch wasn’t state property and that it had been purchased by Albright.
“The couch you are referring to is not state property,” Loughry said in a statement. “It was never state property. It was the property of Justice Joe Albright. He purchased all of the furniture in his office. After he passed away, his family said they had no further use for it and they did not want the couch returned to them.
“Nonetheless, I am so sick of the lies and innuendo coming from our fired, disgruntled former administrator Steve Canterbury that I had the couch taken back to the Supreme Court warehouse.”
Loughry also said he contacted Albright’s widow and son, and both told him they didn’t want the couch.
“He told me he did not want the couch and for me to keep it,” Loughry said, referring to Joe Albright Jr. “This is not state property. However, as I said previously, I am not keeping it, and the state can have it.”
As for the desk, it was one of the original desks picked out by famed architect Cass Gilbert, but not one most recently used by Justice Tom McHugh. It was a desk Loughry used before he was elected as a justice when he was a law clerk.
“It is entirely appropriate for Supreme Court justices to have desks and computers for their home offices due to their heavy caseload and amount of time they spend working at home,” court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy told the Gazette-Mail. “Nevertheless, the desk has been taken to storage until it is needed in another Supreme Court office,” she added. “The desk was not returned because its use was inappropriate, but because issues such as this are becoming an obstacle to the court completing its important work.”
On Nov. 29, Bass reported about a grandfather clock that had been in the justices’ conference room. But when renovations began in 2010, it was going to be sent to surplus before Justice Menis Ketchum decided to purchase it.
The Howard Miller floor clock had been purchased in the 1990s by former Justice Larry Starcher for about $2,500, according to Bass’s report.
“And it was fine with the other justices, and I purchased it,” Ketchum told Bass. He said Canterbury quoted him a $750 price, and he agreed. It was delivered to his home in Huntington.
The clock came up again Nov. 27 during a conference among the five justices.
“One of the justices brought up as an aside, ‘Whatever happened to the hall clock?’” Ketchum told Bass. “And Justice Davis said, ‘Starcher bought it and don't you have it, Menis? You got it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I purchased the clock, you all approved it.’”
But with the recent focus on court money, Ketchum said he wanted to make sure he had actually paid for the clock. He said court officials said there was a check for that amount written to the state treasurer from someone at the Supreme Court, but it couldn’t be verified that it was Ketchum’s payment for the clock. Ketchum couldn’t find proof that he had paid for it either, so he wrote a check for it for $2,000.
“I found my check stubs,” he told Bass. “The banks don't send you canceled checks anymore. And there wasn't a check stub where I'd bought it.
“I thought I was doing a good thing then rather it, you know my wife always wanted a grandfather clock and rather than it just lay over in a warehouse and rot, but I messed up because I thought I paid for it. And my checks don't match the check in the auditor's office.”
Ketchum said he regrets not paying for the clock in 2010, and he said he decided on $2,000 based on research showing what the clock is worth plus shipping.
“It's my responsibility, it's on me,” he said. “But when my mind was jogged, I went and checked and checked values and paid more than the value. I just, I thought I'd paid for it and I hadn't. I mean, I could lie, there's a check over there for $750, but it ain't mine.”
Ketchum did note that former justices can buy office furnishing when leaving office for fair market value, and current justices can purchase items headed to surplus.
Many critics of the court spending have pointed to a sectional sofa that cost nearly $32,000 for Loughry’s office and $7,500 for a wooden medallion of West Virginia built into the office floor. The total cost for renovations to Loughry’s office was about $363,000.
Canterbury has said he was just doing as his bosses – Loughry and the other Justices – wished.
Loughry, on the other hand, places the blame for the spending squarely on Canterbury, who was fired in January shortly after Loughry was named chief justice.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous, and these decisions were made solely by the former administrative director,” he told The Record. “I’m outraged by this and other examples of Mr. Canterbury’s mismanagement of the court’s assets.
“After all, while I am Chief Justice, I’m still a citizen and taxpayer of this state. And I simply will not stand for this behavior. When I became the Chief Justice in January of this year, I ordered an immediate investigation into Mr. Canterbury’s spending and business practices. Some of the things I have discovered have been so troubling to me that I have personally contacted the United States Attorney’s Office.”
Others have focused on spending for Justice Robin Jean Davis’s office. The renovation of her office was the most expensive of all of the justices' chambers at $500,278. Most of that, $433,105, went to construction costs.
“I wanted the people of West Virginia to hear about my office from me,” Davis told Bass. “You know, anything that is done in this office is on me.”
The highest ticket items in Davis’ office are an $8,098 office chair and two floor rugs worth a total of $28,194.
“Well, it's probably a lot for a chair,” Davis told Bass. “But I have arthritis in my spine, and it allows me to sit here for hours on end. And, I chose the chair.”
The two rugs are Edward Fields rugs. One is in Davis’ private office, and the other in her secretary’s adjoining office.
“It is a high-quality rug, and it will last the taxpayers of the state of West Virginia for another 50 years,” Davis said.
In October, Davis wrote a check to the state for $10,019.50 to purchase some of the other items in her office. Those include a $6,100 Milo Boughman sofa, two Boughman armchairs that were also reupholstered and a Paul Legeard coffee table.
A March 14, 2016, memo from Canterbury to Davis lists items that are personal property in her office. It includes all photographs, all paintings, all other artwork, a faux partner’s desk, two standing lamps as well as the sofa, armchairs and coffee table.
But an Oct. 24, 2017, memo details a meeting the day before in which Davis and two employees reviewed expenditures related to her office.
“We discovered that some expenditures were made with state funds without your knowledge or consent,” Sue Racer-Troy wrote in the memo to Davis. “Neither Kim (Ellis) nor I were aware that these were personal items so we had not provided copies of the invoices to you for repayment.”
The items listed are the sofa, armchairs and coffee table. On Oct. 25, Davis wrote the check for those items.
Canterbury said an oversight on his part likely is the reason Davis didn’t pay for those items purchased in 2013 until recently. He said the remodeling of her office took place in the summer, and she was not in the office.
“There were a couple of chairs she liked at auction,” Canterbury told The Record. “There was a couch she liked, maybe at auction, too. I don’t recall. And there was a table she liked at auction. They all needed work. We got them, and the easiest way to do that was to take care of it.
“Most of the costs were to get work done. I probably forgot to get her to reimburse the court. So when it came to her attention, she wrote the check that she thought she had written before.”
Canterbury said Davis owns “virtually everything in her office.”
“I think she found out that she hadn’t paid for some of that stuff,” he said. “She asked for the total, and she paid it.
“It’s really my fault. I simply forgot. That’s on me. I feel bad.”
Renovations to Ketchum’s office cost $193,909. The biggest tickets for his were $6,600 for renovation of his secretary's desk along with $11,489 for carpet, reupholstering and window treatments.
Justice Margaret Workman’s office renovations cost $111,035. The highest ticket item in her office is a sofa that cost nearly $8,900.
Justice Beth Walker’s office renovations cost $130,654. The same offices also were renovated in 2010 under former Justice Brent Benjamin at a cost of $264,301.