Counsel: Court has no written policy on furniture for justices' home offices

By Chris Dickerson | Dec 7, 2017

CHARLESTON – There is no state Supreme Court policy to provide Justices with court-owned furniture and equipment for use in their home offices.

Front row: Justice Robin Jean Davis, Chief Justice Allen Loughry, Justice Margaret Workman. Back row: Justice Menis Ketchum, Justice Beth Walker.  

CHARLESTON – There is no written state Supreme Court policy to provide Justices with court-owned furniture and equipment for use in their home offices.

“A review of our records has not revealed a written policy statement relating to the Court’s practice of establishing home offices for justices,” Court administrative counsel Christopher Morris wrote Dec. 6 in response to the FOIA request.

Justice Robin Jean Davis also responded to the FOIA, which originally was filed by Charleston Gazette-Mail political writer Phil Kabler.

“I have been a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia since December 16, 1996,” Davis wrote. “For the past 21 years, since my time on the Court, I have never heard of or seen any verbal or written policy of providing the justices an opportunity to establish a home office with furniture supplied by the West Virginia Supreme Court. The Justices have been provided computers and printers for off-campus use. Justices also have been provided Court cell phones.”

Justice Menis Ketchum also provided a statement in response to the FOIA request.

"When I came on the Court in January 2009, I was informed that the Court would provide me a home office," he wrote.

Questions about such a policy first arose last month when Kabler made a reference in a column to a leather couch that hadn’t been seen at the Capitol since renovations and remodeling to the state Supreme Court offices began.

Chief Justice Allen Loughry had the couch and a nearly 100-year-old walnut desk at his home office. He subsequently had both items removed from his home by court workers in a state van and taken to a court warehouse.

Loughry said the couch wasn’t state property.

“It was never state property,” he said in a statement. “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 last week. “Nevertheless, the desk has been taken to storage until it is needed in another Supreme Court office.

“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.”

Last month, WCHS/WVAH Eyewitness News reporter Kennie Bass first detailed the state Supreme Court expenditures in a Nov. 13 report. Since 2009, 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.

Loughry’s chambers saw renovations to the tune of $363,000. That includes a sectional sofa that cost nearly $32,000 including $1,700 in throw pillows.

Others have focused on spending for 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. The highest ticket state-owned items in Davis’ office are an $8,098 office chair and two floor rugs worth a total of $28,194.

In her Dec. 6 FOIA response, Davis also said she doesn’t agree with statements “that have been made on behalf of the Court about a practice of establishing ‘home offices’ with furniture for justices.” She also included memos from Sue Racer-Troy, the court’s financial management director, and Kim Ellis, court administrative services director, about the use of court-owned furnishings being used in the Justices’ home offices.

“I am not aware, nor heard any mention of a policy (verbal or written) regarding state property kept at home offices of any Justices,” Racer-Troy wrote in her Nov. 29 memo to Davis. “The lack of written policies and procedures is an ongoing problem which has existed for some time. But in this case, I was not aware of even a verbal policy regarding home offices for the Justices.

“It was my understanding that the justices likely had laptops at their homes, but I was not aware of any other state property that was not kept on the premises.

“During the five years that I have worked for the Court, I am not aware of any furniture or fixtures that were purchased with state funds and delivered to the homes of any justices.”

Ellis’ Nov. 30 memo to Davis echoed much of what Racer-Troy wrote.

“I have been unable to identify any written, historical and/or verbal policies or practices related to the provision of furniture or fixtures purchased or owned by the court for use at a justice’s home,” Ellis wrote. “… I did not locate any records documenting that any used furniture items were moved from the Court’s offices or from either of the Court’s warehouses to a justice’s home. … As director, I have not arranged to have new or used furniture or fixtures delivered to a justice’s home.”

Morris said Loughry, Davis, Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Menis Ketchum each have a court-owned computer for use at their homes. Loughry, Workman and Ketchum each have a court-owned printer at home, and Workman also has a court-owned office chair in her home office. Justice Beth Walker has no court-owned equipment in her home office, according to Morris.

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