Supreme Court won't hear petition regarding governor's residency; Delegate might file again

By Chris Dickerson | Nov 28, 2018

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has refused to hear a petition regarding whether Gov. Jim Justice follows rules about where he lives.

The court rejected Del. Isaac Sponaugle’s petition for writ of mandamus on Nov. 14.

“Upon consideration and review, the court is of the opinion that a rule should not be awarded, and the writ prayed for by the petitioner should be refused,” the order states.

Sponaugle, a Democrat from Pendleton County, filed a similar lawsuit in September in Kanawha Circuit Court. It was dismissed because he failed to provide the state with the required 30-day notice before filing the lawsuit. A week later, he filed the case with the Supreme Court.


He has indicated he might file the case again in Kanawha Circuit Court.

In the petition, Sponaugle said he was 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.

Justice has admitted to staying in the Governor's Mansion no more than a handful of nights since he took office.

Sponaugle's petition stated that Justice does not come to Charleston to work regularly and that members of the West Virginia Legislature have raised concerns over Justice's "chronic absenteeism" and its effect on the productivity of state government.

In regards to where he does his work, Justice has been quoted as saying, "it doesn't matter whether I do it in the back of a Suburban or from the top of the dome," according to the petition.

"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," the petition states.

Sponaugle’s petition claimed he had been injured by Justice's poor job performance due to him rarely showing up. He claimed Justice has failed his duties under the West Virginia Constitution.

Back in June, during a press conference, Justice said, “I’ll only stay at the mansion when it’s convenient to me."

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’s attorneys in the matter – Michael W. Carey and David R. Pogue of Carey, Scott, Douglas & Kessler in Charleston – said the question of residence needs to be open-ended for the governor to do his job properly.

“The duty to ‘reside’ at the seat of government is neither plain in point of law nor clear in matter of fact, and necessarily involves discretion in the mode of its performance,” they wrote in a response. “Indeed, this court has recognized that the word ‘reside’ is ‘chameleon-like’ and ‘like a slippery eel,’ with no clear, rigid definition, and petitioner has not even attempted to offer a definition or explain the precise parameters of the duty he seeks to enforce.”

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Kanawha Circuit Court West Virginia Governor's Office West Virginia House of Delegates West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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