CHARLESTON – Two antique sofas purchased by Justice Margaret Workman are being stored in a state Supreme Court warehouse.
The sofas were purchased from the estate of former Gov. and state Attorney General Homer A. Holt’s family. Holt’s grandfather, also named Homer A. Holt, served as a state Supreme Court justice in the late 1800s.
“I personally purchased (them) for their historical significance for potential use by the Court,” Workman told The West Virginia Record. “When the renovations were planned in my office, it was ascertained that the sofas needed restoration as well as recovering, which would create more expense.”
Workman said the couches have not been used by anyone at the court despite their availability. She said former Court Administrator Steve Canterbury and possibly others knew of their availability.
“Consequently, I contacted Randall Reid Smith, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, in early 2017 to see if he could use them in the State Museum or for any other exhibits or displays,” Workman said. “He indicated that he would like to have the sofas, especially after I explained the provenance.”
Workman said she contacted Smith again about the sofas when she received questions from The Record about storing items in state-owned warehouses.
“He said that he still was planning to accept them for inclusion in his historical inventory and would have his assistant contact me to arrange their pick-up,” Workman said. “The sofas were never purchased for, intended for, nor stored as my personal property.”
Earlier this year, the former executive director of the West Virginia Water Development Authority stepped down after an ethics investigation showed he stored 12 pieces of furniture at the authority’s headquarters. Chris Jarrett was ordered to pay $4,500 in fines and restitution. He removed the items after the state Ethics Commission notified him he was being investigated.
Workman said she doesn’t remember exactly when she purchased the sofas, and she said she couldn’t provide any documentation about the purchase, conversations with Smith, restoration cost estimates or proof of storage.
Canterbury said he doesn't recall any mention of the Holt sofas before he was fired in January, but he admits it simply could have slipped his mind.
"The only thing I had ever heard was that Justice Workman had left a couch from her first term at the warehouse for years until she was there for her second term," Canterbury said.
In a follow-up response, Workman said one of the couches were there from her first time on the Supreme Court from 1989 to 1999. The other is from her current term that began in 2009.
"Neither ever (was) used personally and always considered donated to Court," she said. "I honestly forgot about donating the first one and was surprised it was still sitting in that old warehouse after all this time.
"If the Division of Culture and History doesn't them pick up, they will be sent to state surplus property."
When he left office in January, former Justice Brent Benjamin purchased several furniture items that had been in his office. He temporarily stored them at a Supreme Court warehouse.
The items – which included a desk, a desk chair, a cabinet, three leather chairs, a matching ottoman and an executive chair – were appraised for $6,720. He paid the appraised value on Jan. 1 by check. The furniture was moved to the warehouse when he left office, and he picked them up May 17.
Justice Robin Jean Davis said she has no stored furniture in state-owned warehouses. But she said she has three or four bankers’ boxes of items in the main basement of the Capitol. She said the boxes contain photos and awards that were removed from her office during its renovation.
Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said no other current justices have stored anything in Supreme Court warehouses, and she said no at the court is aware of any former justice having done so.