Benjamin testifies about Loughry feuding with Davis, others over use of court vehicles

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 4, 2018

CHARLESTON – A former state Supreme Court justice recalled feuding among the justices regarding use of state vehicles and a discussion with Justice Allen Loughry about an antique desk.

During the second full day of testimony Oct. 4 in the federal trial against Loughry, former Justice Brent Benjamin testified for the prosecution.

Benjamin served on the court with Loughry from 2013, when Loughry took office, until 2016, when Benjamin lost his re-election bid. But they worked together starting in 2004 when Loughry was a court clerk, working for former Justice Spike Maynard and current Chief Justice Margaret Workman.

During his testimony, Benjamin talked about a conversation he had with Loughry about the antique Cass Gilbert desk that Loughry is accused of having moved to his Charleston home for use there.


Loughry  

Benjamin said he mentioned Loughry had the desk in his office when he worked as a clerk.

“Yes, I’m very fortunate to have this,” Loughry said, according to Benjamin. “It’s very historical.”

Loughry also is accused of using a government vehicle and submitting mileage claims for reimbursement; using a government vehicle and credit card on personal trips as well as of attempting to corruptly obstruct and influence testimonial evidence of a Supreme Court employee in an imminent grand jury investigation. He also is accused of lying to federal investigators during questioning about the allegations.

Benjamin also testified that there wasn’t a policy allowing the justices to have a home office. The only equipment Benjamin knew of for home use were computers and printers.

After Loughry was elected, Benjamin said use of state vehicles became a contentious topic among the justices. He said a memo war began when former Justice Robin Jean Davis suggested a closer examination of vehicle usage. Benjamin said Loughry, Davis and court security personnel who oversaw the vehicle usage logs sent memos back and forth about the issue.

Supreme Court Deputy Director for Security Jess Gundy also testified Thursday. He said Loughry would sign out a car to use without stating a destination or purpose for the car usage.

“He would not tell us and refer back to the fact that other justices didn’t need to know where he was going,” Gundy said, noting that one time Loughry made the comment that, “It’s none of their effin’ business where I’m going,” apparently referrring to the other justices.

When Davis suggested closer scrutiny of car usage, Gundy said Loughry called he and Security Director Art Angus and said, “You guys aren’t going to throw me under the bus, are you?”

Gundy also said Loughry asked he, Angus and court employee Paul Mendez to help him move a couch out of his house in November 2017 to a Supreme Court warehouse in Kanawha City. The couch had belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright. The Cass Gilbert desk was moved later.

Gundy also said media coverage seemed to change Loughry’s demeanor.

“He returned the keys after all this stuff about the couch and desk started to appear in the media,” Gundy testified.

Supreme Court Chief Financial Officer Sue Racer-Troy also testified Thursday. She explained how the court tracked mileage and gasoline purchases.

The state Supreme Court suspended Loughry without pay while charges of judicial misconduct against him were pending on June 8. That motion meant that Loughry could not hear any arguments or perform any judicial functions while his case progresses through the court system.

Two days prior, a request to suspend Loughry's law license was issued, along with a 32-count Statement of Charges.

In the June 6 filing, the Judicial Investigation Commission claimed Loughry violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by making "false statements with the deliberate attempt to deceive, engaged in sophism and gave disinformation with the intent to harm another person.”

The JIC statement said it had been investigating Loughry since February.

Loughry also faces another trial next month before the state Senate after the House voted to impeach him. If found guilty there, he would be removed from the court.

Loughry was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012, and served as chief justice in 2017.

U.S. District Court case number 2:18-cr-00134

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