Sponaugle renews challenge to Justice residency

The Governor’s Mansion in Charleston. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, has refiled a petition to the Supreme Court to compel the governor to live in Charleston. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — A petition to compel the governor to reside in Charleston was refiled on Tuesday by a member of the House of Delegates.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to order Gov. Jim Justice to reside in the seat of government as required by the state Constitution.

“I’m asking for the court to compel him to follow the Constitution and the statute and order that he reside at the seat of government,” Sponaugle said by phone Tuesday. “One can argue, and I am arguing, that the governor’s chronic absenteeism is affecting the people’s constitutional rights for the inability to redress any grievances that they might have.”

According to Article 7 in the Constitution, members of the Board of Public Works – governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and attorney general – shall “reside at the seat of government,” which is Charleston.

Sponaugle first filed a petition for a writ of mandamus on June 19 in Kanawha County Circuit Court, but Circuit Judge Charles King dismissed it because Sponaugle didn’t give the state a 30-day notice of his intent to file suit against the state, as required by state code. Anticipating the possible dismissal, Sponaugle sent a 30-day notice Aug. 9.

Since filing the first petition, Sponaugle said Justice has made numerous public statements expressing his desire to remain at his Lewisburg home.

“(Justice) has publicly acknowledged at least a dozen or more times to the press that he has not resided in the seat of government and he will not reside at the seat of government, so factually there are no issues to resolve with that,” Sponaugle said. “Since he acknowledges that he doesn’t reside at the seat of government, then it’s purely a legal issue, which would make it right for the Supreme Court to exercise its original jurisdiction on it.”

Brian Abraham, general counsel for the governor’s office, said Sponaugle’s petition is frivolous.

“We obviously haven’t seen it yet, but we have no fear,” Abraham said. “We look forward to defending on the merits.”

Abraham said the several posts on the governor’s social media accounts show Justice is in Charleston doing his job, even if he doesn’t live in Charleston as the Constitution mandates. These posts include Justice holding Hurricane Florence briefings in the State Emergency Operations Center and Justice meeting with representatives of China Energy in the governor’s mansion on Sept. 10.

“It will show (Sponaugle’s) legal basis is not sound,” Abraham said. “He obviously doesn’t follow the governor’s social media that shows repeatedly the governor being in the mansion himself meeting with dignitaries and members of the public.”

Justice was represented during the previous case by Mike Carey, an attorney with the Carey, Scott, Douglas and Kessler law firm.