Justice files response regarding residency suit

By Kyla Asbury | Oct 17, 2018

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice filed a response to a petition for writ of mandamus filed against him claiming he isn’t following the Constitution because he doesn’t live in the seat of government.

Justice filed his response on Oct. 16 in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

“Neither the Constitution, nor the corresponding statutory provision…contains any specific guidance as to the meaning of the term ‘reside’ in this context,” Justice’s response states. “When the circuit court questioned Petitioner as to what exactly he wanted the court to order Respondent to do, and what exactly he meant by ‘reside,’ Respondent struggled to answer.”

Justice states that when Del. Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton) tried to define this to the circuit court, he said he wanted Justice to live in the capitol for more than half of the year. The circuit court ultimately dismissed that suit and Sponaugle then re-filed with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Justice argues it is “entirely unclear” how Sponaugle “defines ‘reside,’ and what threshhold of time Petitioner believes Respondent is required to spend at the Governor’s Mansion and/or the Governor’s Office at the Capitol.”

“If ‘reside’ is read to mean that Respondent must be ‘present’ at the seat of government, then the requirement is axiomatically unenforceable through mandamus, because the governor must be afforded the discretion to travel about the state and perform his job as he sees fit and as required by any given set of circumstances,” the response states.

Justice believes Sponaugle’s motive for filing the petition is purely political and that if the majority of the Legislature disapproves of the manner in which he has exercised discretion to allocate his time as he sees fit, then they can impeach him or vote him out of office.

Justice argued that as governor he should not be subjected to politically-motivated lawsuits every time one of his critics professes to feel that he is not spending sufficient time at the Capitol.

The petition for writ of mandamus was filed on Sept. 18.

Sponaugle had previously filed the lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court in June but had failed to provide the state the required 30 days notice before filing, so it was dismissed last week.

In the petition, Sponaugle notes that he is seeking the answer to whether or not it is mandatory for the governor to reside at the seat of government during the terms of office.

Justice was elected in 2016 and took office in January 2017, but Justice has not resided in Charleston since he took office and, instead, has maintained his residence in Lewisburg.

When the lawsuit was previously filed, Justice released a statement regarding the lawsuit in which he said the petition was filled with falsehoods of which he would address each and every one at the proper time.

"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.”

Justice is represented by Michael W. Carey and David R. Pogue of Carey, Scott, Douglas & Kessler.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Case number: 18-0810

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