CHARLESTON – The former state Supreme Court administrator who was fired days after former Justice Allen Loughry became chief justice says he thinks justice has been served.
But, Steve Canterbury also said the damage Loughry did to the state Supreme Court goes beyond the crimes for which he was sentenced Feb. 13 to two years in prison.
“So often, evildoers are convicted of crimes that are not nearly as bad as other things they’ve done,” said Canterbury, who oversaw the state Regional Jail Authority before he joined the court. “The most obvious example is Al Capone. Tax evasion was the least of his criminal activities.
“What Allen Loughry did to children of divorce by denying 90 percent of the guardians at litem, what he did to potential victim of sexual assault by firing the probation officers who were specially trained to supervise sex offenders, what he did to the people who were seeking access the courts by eliminating the Access To Justice Commission … and so many other things.
“On top of that, he ran off scores of Supreme Court employees who were top-notch and added to the courts of West Virginia. Now, they’re helping the courts of Utah, California, North Carolina and Ohio. They were really good people. All of that is actually far worse that what he was found guilty of.”
Loughry was found guilty in October of seven counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and two counts of lying to federal agents. The wire fraud charges related to Loughry using a state vehicle and state-issued gasoline purchasing card for personal travel. Some of those trips were for events where he signed copies of his book “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay For A Landslide,” Loughry’s book about West Virginia’s history of political corruption
The mail fraud count related to Loughry seeking reimbursement for a trip despite using a state vehicle and a state-issued gasoline purchasing card. After the trial, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver dropped a witness tampering conviction but said the federal government could decide if it wanted to retry Loughry on that charge.
Canterbury said he thinks Loughry’s sentence was just.
“I worked for the courts for 11.5 years, so I believe in the justice system,” Canterbury told The West Virginia Record. “I had my faith confirmed in process and by the outcome. I think justice was served.
“Two years is a good amount of time for him to put things, perhaps, in better perspective. Then, he’ll have three years of transition, perhaps, into polite society. I think Judge Copenhaver did an excellent job handling this matter. I’d never second-guess someone who’s been a judge for 60 years.”
Canterbury was fired by 3-2 vote of the state Supreme Court justices on Jan. 4, 2017, just days after Loughry took over as chief justice. Loughry blamed Canterbury for “outrageous” spending on renovations to the justice’s Capitol offices, including a $32,000 sectional couch in Loughry’s office. Loughry continued to blame Canterbury for that and other matters, even through his October trial.
“My very first act upon becoming Chief Justice in 2017 was to fire the court administrator, Steve Canterbury, for a decade of misfeasance and mismanagement,” Loughry wrote in a December 2017 opinion piece that appeared in The Record. “Until that time, Mr. Canterbury had a stronghold on the Court’s financial and administrative decisions.
“I became so troubled by some of the actions of Mr. Canterbury and the failure of a majority of the Court to even attempt to hold him accountable that I personally contacted the United States attorney’s office. That was not an easy decision to make.”
Loughry’s reaching out to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart triggered an investigation into the state Supreme Court. That investigation continues, according to Stuart.
Since his firing, Canterbury has said he did nothing wrong during his time as court administrator. He testified during Loughry's trial.
“I guess you could say, in a way, I started all of this,” Canterbury told The Record. “So, my having a few comments at the end of this chapter isn’t improper. But, I think there are more chapters to come in this story.”
Canterbury said he has faith that the state Supreme Court will recover from everything it has endured over the last year or so.
“But, there is a lot more that needs to be done,” Canterbury said. “There is so much damage that was done … a lot of damage done administratively. It’s going to take years to fix this.”
On Feb. 13, Loughry also was ordered to pay fines and restitution in the amount of $12,273. He also will serve three years of supervised probation. He is supposed to self-report to prison by April 5.
Loughry has 14 days to appeal the sentencing. He also was granted permission to make trips to his native Tucker County before his sentence begins with permission from federal probation officials.
Earlier, Copenhaver had dismissed two motions by John Carr, Loughry’s attorney, seeking a new trial. The most recent rejection came last week following a motion saying a juror’s use of social media denied Loughry his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
In a Feb. 11 pre-sentencing filing, federal prosecutors said Loughry had an “unbridled arrogance” and a “catch me if you can” attitude, noting that he lied to a federal agent during an interview which he requested.
Loughry also faces sanctions from the state Judicial Hearing Board. Its hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 20. But during the Feb. 13 sentencing, attorney John Carr said Loughry already has signed an agreement to give up his law license and never run for public office again.
In addition to the federal charges, the state Judicial Investigation Commission charges also focus on Loughry’s violations of 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 says Loughry denied that he had anything to do with renovations to his state Capitol office that included the $32,000 couch, $1,700 for throw pillows and a $7,500 wooden inlaid medallion in his office floor. The JIC also says Loughry violated the Code of Judicial Conduct “when he kept secret from other justices” a December 2017 federal subpoena served on the court.
Loughry “personally selected the couch,” the JIC statement of charges says. “He also selected the blue suede fabric covering for the couch and the fabric covering the throw pillows.”
Loughry was removed as Chief Justice last February, and he was suspended in June shortly after the federal criminal charges were announced. He resigned in November after his conviction. Loughry and three other then-Justices were impeached in August. Only current Chief Justice Beth Walker faced an impeachment trial. She was cleared in October. The impeachment efforts then were found to be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.