CHARLESTON – A Pendleton County delegate has filed a petition claiming Gov. Jim Justice isn’t upholding his duties by not living at the governor’s mansion in Charleston.
Isaac Sponaugle, who is an attorney in Franklin, filed his Petition for Writ of Mandamus on June 21 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
“The Justice administration is a mess,” Sponaugle, a Democrat, said in a statement to The West Virginia Record. “It’s plagued by scandals, mismanagement of public monies and poor performance.
“The main reason for the mess is Governor Jim Justice’s chronic absenteeism from the Capitol.”
Justice called Sponaugle's filing nothing but "a political stunt." The governor's counsel said it is "wholly and completely without merit."
In his petition, Sponaugle says Justice took an oath swearing to uphold the United States and West Virginia constitutions. It says Section 1 of Aricle VII of the West Virginia Constitution sets forth the rule.
“The executive department shall consist of a governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and attorney general, who shall be ex officio reporter of the court of appeals,” the state Constitution states. “Their terms of office shall be four years, and shall commence on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of January next after their election. They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.”
Sponaugle, the House's assistant minority whip, says the section contains a “mandatory nondiscretionary constitutional duty” for the named members of the executive department.
Justice “has not resided at the seat of government for more than 10 days from Jan. 16, 2017, until the filing this Petition for Writ of Mandamus,” Sponaugle wrote. “This is despite housing afforded to him at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion located at 1716 Kanawha E, Charleston, West Virginia.
“Respondent by his own public admissions has not and continues to reside in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. That Respondent works in Greenbrier County and keeps many of the public records, books and papers pertaining to his respective office there.
“That certain scandals, mismanagement of public monies, lack of communication among agencies and a decrease in general productivity of state government has occurred under respondent’s tenure as governor.
“That certain members of the West Virginia Legislature have publicly raised concerns about the habitual work absenteeism by respondent causing certain scandals, mismanagement of public monies, lack of communication among agencies and a decrease in general productivity of state government.
“That respondent held multiple press conferences in response to certain members of the West Virginia Legislature and publicly declared that he would not make the seat of government his residency, would not show up to work every day at the seat of government, will continue to reside and work in Greenbrier County and only show up at the seat of government when it is convenient to him.”
Sponaugle says he, as a citizen and taxpayer, has a “clear legal right in relief.” He seeks a writ be issued that Justice be ordered to reside in Charleston.
In a memorandum supporting his petition, Sponaugle expands on his thoughts, saying Justice “based on his own public admissions, has not spent more than a handful of nights, if any” at the governor’s mansion.
“When he decides to go to work, which is not a regular daily occurrence, to the West Virginia State Capitol, he drives himself to and from Greenbrier County,” the memorandum states. “Certain scandals, mismanagement of public monies, no communication with cabinet secretaries and a decrease in productivity of state government has occurred under the respondent’s tenure as governor.”
Sponaugle also cites a June 14 statement by members of the state Legislature raising concerns about Justice’s “chronic absenteeism” and its effects on productivity of state government. Justice held a press conference the following day to address the concerns.
Justice “publicly declared that he would not move into the Governor’s Mansion nor would he be reporting to work daily at the seat of government. Respondent further advised the public that he works from his residence in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. It was implied by the Respondent that most of his records, books and papers pertaining to the office of West Virginia Governor are scattered between Greenbrier County and Kanawha County.”
“Specifically, respondent stated in regards where he works, ‘It doesn’t matter whether I do it in the back of a Suburban or from the top of the dome.’”
During a June 18 press conference, Justice also said, “I’ll only stay at the Mansion when it’s convenient to me.”
Sponaugle says he is concerned by Justice’s “habitual absenteeism” and its effect on state government productivity and declining morale among state workers.
“Petitioner strongly believes that the recent scandals that appear in the daily newspapers on a regular occurrence are due to respondent neglect of his constitutional duties and the office of Governor is not in proper order,” the memorandum states. “Petitioner is further concerned about the inability of citizens and taxpayers of West Virginia having access to the Governor of the State of West Virginia due to his habitual absenteeism.
“Citizens have the right to meet with and speak with elected government officials while they are performing their elected government functions. To deny this accessibility hurts citizens and taxpayers’ confidence in state government.
“An example would be the teacher and school service personal nine-day work stoppage earlier this year. Thousands of citizens came to the Capitol to express their feelings and thoughts about their livelihoods. They wanted to address respondent who had made several unpopular policy decisions with PEIA and pay increases that triggered the work stoppage. Theses citizens were disappointed daily due to respondent not appearing at the seat of government on a regular basis during the work stoppage.”
Sponaugle said no one, including lawmakers, knew Justice’s whereabouts during the teacher walkout.
“Petitioner believes that respondent’s regular attendance at the seat of government would provide a greater confidence in state government to the public and show empathy rather than the appearance of indifference or ‘no one cares’ image presented by respondent,” Sponaugle wrote. “Petitioner is further concerned about who is providing respondent with his daily reports of state government since he is not present to witness it first hand and may be only getting reports from one or two individuals that may have a desire to not keep him properly inform for other reasons.”
Sponaugle said Justice’s actions are “fret with problems” that should be avoided.
“The West Virginia Constitution has safeguards built into it to avoid these basic problems in the form of mandatory attendance of officeholders of the executive department when they hold that office,” Sponaugle wrote. “To put it in contemporary terms, Woody Allen once said, ‘Eighty percent of life is showing up.’
“Respondent has not and refuses to address his habitual absenteeism and chaotic book keeping of his records. For the aforesaid reasons, Petitioner lacks any other adequate remedy. The writ of mandamus should be issued.”
A Writ of Mandamus is a civil action seeking a court order to get a government official to fulfill his or her official mandatory duty. Sponaugle said it is an extraordinary remedy, used in exceptional circumstances of public importance.
“Jim Justice swore an oath to support the constitution of the State of West Virginia and to faithfully discharge the duties of Governor to the best of his skill and judgment,” Sponaugle said. “The constitution mandates that you work regularly at the seat of government. Governor Justice has declared that he will only follow the constitution when it is convenient to him.
“If it takes a lawsuit to make the governor follow constitutional work requirements, then so be it. I’m one of many plaintiffs that have had to take Jim Justice to court to keep his word.
“The rule of law, hard work and dedication are West Virginian values. Likewise, law breaking, self-entitlement and chronic absenteeism are not. As the leader of the state, Jim Justice should reevaluate his values. How can the governor ask West Virginians to follow the constitution when he won’t do it himself?”
Justice responded with a statement.
"This petition is filled with falsehoods and we will address each and every one at the proper time," he said. "It’s a shame that Delegate Sponaugle has chosen to engage in a political stunt that has no purpose but to waste the valuable time and resources of the executive branch and the West Virginia court system.
"Delegate Sponaugle, a far-left politician, never brought this up when I was a Democrat, but now that an election year is upon us he chose to file this lawsuit to score cheap political points.
"Frankly, I don’t want to waste our people’s money, have people cook for me, do laundry, let me have party after party on the taxpayer’s dime and cater to my every whim. I’m here to serve, not to be served.”
The case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Charlie King.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 18-P-217