CHARLESTON – The former state Supreme Court administrator says he did nothing wrong during his time in the position and that he has no worries about a potential investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Steve Canterbury says he doesn’t want to respond directly to a recent opinion piece written by West Virginia Chief Justice Allen Loughry with another op-ed or rehashing the details of about Supreme Court spending on renovations to chambers and offices.
“I don’t want it going back to a ‘he said, he said’ type of thing,” Canterbury said Dec. 14. “I know what happened, and I don’t know where he’s (Loughry) coming from on a lot of these things.”
Last month, WCHS/WVAH Eyewitness News reporter Kennie Bass first detailed the state Supreme Court expenditures. 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. That includes renovations and redecorating of the Supreme Court chambers and the Justices’ offices, as well as electrical wiring, heating and cooling, plumbing and structural improvements.
Loughry has blamed Canterbury for the “outrageous” spending, including a $32,000 sectional couch in Loughry’s office.
“My very first act upon becoming Chief Justice in 2017 was to fire the court administrator, Steve Canterbury, for a decade of misfeasance and mismanagement,” Loughry wrote in a recent op-ed that appeared in The West Virginia Record. “The Supreme Court consists of five justices and it takes three votes to take such an action. Until that time, Mr. Canterbury had a stronghold on the Court’s financial and administrative decisions.
“I became so troubled by some of the actions of Mr. Canterbury and the failure of a majority of the Court to even attempt to hold him accountable that I personally contacted the United States attorney’s office. That was not an easy decision to make and I am clearly receiving some ‘payback’ for taking these actions.
“Even with a strong three-vote majority, Mr. Canterbury was not left with unfettered authority. He had strict spending limitations of $20,000. That rule has been in place since 2009 when it was introduced by and later signed by Mr. Canterbury. Any expenditure above the limit has to be presented to the full Supreme Court for a vote by the majority.
“That brings us to the $32,000 couch. This item, along with other expenditures above the administrative director’s $20,000 limit, was never brought before the Court for approval. This is a clear violation of Court rules and in my opinion is a misappropriation of state money.
“If you don’t have the legal authority to spend it, you can’t spend it. I am also deeply troubled by the amounts for some of these everyday items.”
Canterbury said he never had any intention of filing a lawsuit over his firing, saying he knew “full well that he was a will-and-pleasure employee.”
“But, he (Loughry) has said all of this stuff publicly, and he’s written this op-ed,” Canterbury said. “People have told me I should (pursue legal action), but I don’t know. I have time to decide that.”
Canterbury also said people have suggested he was retaliating after Loughry had gone to the U.S. Attorney about the alleged “misfeasance and mismanagement.” But he denies that as well.
“The first I heard about that (the potential U.S. Attorney involvement) was on Kennie Bass’s initial report,” Canterbury said. “I wasn’t playing offense or defense or anything. I didn’t know anything about it at all.”
But Canterbury also said he has nothing to hide from an investigation.
“Of course, no one wants to go through that process, but I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Unless I actually was stealing things or getting kickbacks, there’s nothing. And, trust me, I got no kickbacks. And I didn’t steal from the court.
“I gave it (the job) my all. I did my best. I have no doubt people can look at what I did and find fault. Hell, I can look back and find fault. But overall, I’m proud of what I did.”
Canterbury said he shouldn’t be blamed for excessive spending because it continued after he was fired.
“Look at Justice (Beth) Walker’s office,” he said. “It was renovated a few years before that when Justice (Brent) Benjamin still was in office. But, they spent $130,000 or so on her office after she was came in. And that had to be all redecorating. No renovation.”
Walker’s office renovations cost $130,654. In 2010 when Benjamin used that office, $264,301 was spent on renovations to it.
Canterbury also talked about the day he was fired.
“When I left my office, I had no time,” he said. “I was told I had to be gone by sunset. He (Loughry) also forbad anybody to help me. Court marshals were watching my every move. In fact, when I would look into files, I had to read it out loud and they’d decide if it was personal or court property.”
In his op-ed, Loughry wrote that Canterbury told the three Justices who voted to fire him, “I will destroy you!”
“I didn’t say, ‘I shall destroy you!’” Canterbury said with a chuckle. “That isn’t the way I talk. That isn’t my style. Besides, I was raised in southern West Virginia. You don’t tell them that. You just do it.”
Canterbury said he did make a comment to Loughry.
“I did say that the only bright spot would be that I didn’t have to work for a simulacrum of a chief justice anymore,” he said. “It probably was intemperate of me. It probably was uncalled for, but there you go.”
Simulacrum is a Latin word that means “an insubstantial form or semblance of something,” according to Merriam-Webster, or “a slight, unreal or superficial likeness of something,” according to Dictionary.com.
“He (Loughry) said, ‘What did you call me?’ I said, “I didn’t call you anything. I described you.’ He said, ‘What does that mean? How do you spell it?’ Hell, he just fired me. I wasn’t going to spell it for him.”
Canterbury also said he believes the state Legislature should have oversight of the Supreme Court’s purse. State Senate President Mitch Carmichael and other lawmakers have called for a constitutional amendment to do just that.
“The main point is that the three separate branches have clear and distinct responsibilities,” Canterbury said. “And, the Legislature is meant to oversee the purse – not only to prevent excessive spending of some items like $32,000 couches, but also to make sure they’re spending sufficient funds to keep programs and opportunities identified to make sure they’re fully funded.
“For example, the court has eliminated the sex offenders unit. That’s something the Legislature put into code. The court has reduced funding on drug courts dramatically.
“The reason the Legislature should take the budgetary authority away from the court is simple. They can make sure the spending is appropriate, but they also can make sure the money is spent on appropriate things, like the programs the state needs. Because, ultimately, the state and its citizens are who suffer.
“Also, I believe in my heart that the only reason the court has gone to such lengths to save money is to make a case for judicial pay raises this year. It’s a great concern of mine.”