West Virginia Record

Monday, October 14, 2019

Day 5 of impeachment hearing wraps up

State Supreme Court

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 26, 2018

Steve Canterbury | Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislation Photography

CHARLESTON — The impeachment hearing involving the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals continued Thursday with former Court Administrator Steve Canterbury testifying.

The morning was spent discussing the use of state vehicles by justices and about the $32,000 couch purchased for Justice Allen Loughry's chambers.

Canterbury said when he went to Loughry upon receiving the invoice for the couch, Loughry jokingly told him that if the cost of the couch became public he would just blame it on him.

When asked if he still felt that Loughry was joking or if he was intentionally deceiving the public when he said this, Canterbury said he didn't know.

"I think the joke was on me," Canterbury said. "I can't answer to what was in his mind."

When asked why Canterbury called Loughry a Simulacrum in Chief, meaning an "elaborate fraud", he said he felt Loughry was dishonest.

"I think he's dishonest. I don't think he has the temperament to be a justice or to be in charge of hiring people," Canterbury said. "I found his entire tone off-putting. But, I respect the position and the people's will and I would've served him given the chance."

Canterbury said he never threatened Loughry when his employment was terminated, but that he had noted that he didn't know whether to go to the press with all he knew or leave it alone and "sail into the sunset."

Del. Phil Isner (D-Randolph) asked Canterbury if he had said, "I will destroy you," to which Canterbury said he did not because he was not Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

In the afternoon, Canterbury discussed the Supreme Court chambers renovations as well as the Cass Gilbert desk and Justice Joseph Albright's couch that had been taken to Loughry's home.

Canterbury also discussed the state vehicles again when the delegates brought up questions. He testified to his experiences with the justices and how each used or did not use state vehicles.

He said former Justice Brent Benjamin was always very good to only relay the mileage for the route to and from a state event and would not seek reimbursement for mileage for if he stopped somewhere along the way.

"Justice Benjamin was a Boy Scout," Canterbury said. "He was one of the most honorable people I've known in my life."

When asked if he felt the justices believed the West Virginia Ethics Act applied to them, Canterbury stated that he wasn't sure the justices would believe the act actually applied to them.

Canterbury said the justices believe they say what the law is, but he doesn't think they actually believe they are above the law. 

"I do think they believe they say what the law is," Canterbury said

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott (R-Mercer) said that the press release issued earlier in the week by the Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC) had raised questions regarding its effect upon the investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.

"It is important to remember that each of the three investigations have different standards," Shott said in a statement. "The U.S. Attorney’s office is focused on whether a federal crime has been committed, the JIC is focused on whether there has been a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and our Committee is focused on whether there is a Constitutional basis for impeachment. There may be some overlap in the conduct and the type of conduct being considered, but a finding by one does not necessarily bind the others.

"The JIC is also subject to a two-year statute of limitations, but our committee is not. The JIC seemed to be most focused on whether the ‘working lunches’ violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. For our purposes, that issue involves two different components: whether public funds were used to pay for the Justice’s working lunches and whether the cost of those lunches were excessive.  It appears that the JIC did not address the second component. My best recollection of my conversation with JIC counsel was that JIC was not considering excessive spending because that conduct, in and of itself, was not a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Thus, for our purposes, excessive spending on the lunches (i.e.  instead of ordering from the Capitol cafeteria or Wendy’s, lunches were ordered from the some of the higher priced restaurants in town) could be an example of a pattern of excessive spending of the Court and a cavalier indifference to the spending of taxpayer money.

"The timing of the JIC’s ‘unusual step’ in issuing its press release and closing letters have caused some speculation regarding its motives. I prefer to believe that the JIC’s motivation was to permit our Committee to have access to the information it developed during its investigation. As you may recall, proceedings of the Judicial Investigation Commission are confidential unless they result in an admonishment or formal statement of charges. However, now that the JIC’s investigation of the complaints is closed, and the JIC has decided to make the information that it conducted an investigation public, I have instructed our staff counsel to issue a subpoena for that material. It could eliminate the need for us to investigate some allegations further, or it could suggest other materials and/or witnesses we need to develop."

The hearings will continue on Friday beginning at 9 a.m.  The delegates will receive information about construction costs, will discuss the issue of working lunches, information on book signing excursions and the Tucker County Magistrate case. The delegates don’t plan for the hearing to last all day.

Canterbury was questioned for more than 10 hours today. When the delegates broke for dinner, taxpayers did not pay for the working dinner. Shott’s wife made the dinner.

Loughry was suspended in June after allegations were made about his office use and lying.

Loughry was charged in a two-dozen criminal indictment with lying to federal investigators, witness tampering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

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