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Justice settles case over residency

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice agreed to “reside” in Charleston as required by the West Virginia Constitution in a settlement of a lawsuit brought by a former lawmaker.

According to a dismissal order issued Monday by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Daniel P. O’Hanlon, Justice agreed to “reside” in Charleston as defined by an opinion issued by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals last November.

In a Nov. 20, 2020, opinion, the Supreme Court denied a motion for a writ of prohibition sought by Justice attorneys Mike Carey and George Terwilliger after a Kanawha County judge ruled against a motion to dismiss a writ of mandamus case brought by former Pendleton County delegate Isaac Sponaugle asking the court to require Justice to follow the Constitution and live in Charleston.

In that opinion, Chief Justice Evan Jenkins defined “reside” as “to live, primarily, at the seat of government; and requires that the executive official’s principal place of physical presence is the seat of government for the duration of his or her term of office.”

“(Justice) has represented through counsel that he intends to ‘reside’ in Charleston consistent with the definition of ‘reside’ in the Supreme Court of Appeals’ opinion,” O’Hanlon said in his dismissal order. “The parties agree that (Justice’s) voluntary agreement to reside at the seat of government within the meaning of the Constitution renders this case moot and that the case should be dismissed.”

In dismissing the writ of mandamus, Justice also agreed to pay $65,000 to Sponaugle for his attorney fees and costs.

“I’m satisfied with the outcome of the case,” Sponaugle said in a statement. “The West Virginia Constitution will be followed going forward by Jim Justice, pursuant to our agreement, for the balance of his tenure as Governor. It took nearly three years of litigation to finally get us here, but in the end the West Virginia Constitution won.”

Sponaugle’s writ of mandamus, first filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court at the end of 2018, asked the court to require Justice to follow the Constitution and live in Charleston.

According to Article 7 of the state Constitution, the executive branch officials that make up the Board of Public Works shall “reside at the seat of government,” which is Charleston. These officials include the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and attorney general.

Sponaugle, an attorney from Franklin, filed his first residency suit against Justice as a private citizen in June 2018, but Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King threw out the case because Sponaugle failed to give the state a 30-day notice. A second suit filed with the state Supreme Court was rejected in September 2018 before Sponaugle, after filing the 30-day notice, filed again December 2018 in Kanawha County.

The Governor’s Office was represented during the case by Carey, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. Terwilliger, a former acting U.S. attorney general, represented Justice as a citizen.

Justice’s attorneys issued a motion to dismiss the case on Feb. 19, 2019. King denied that motion on July 17, 2019. After King granted a motion by Justice’s attorneys on Oct. 21, 2019, to stay further proceedings and explain his decision not to grant to motion to dismiss, Justice’s attorneys filed for a writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the write of prohibition last October and ruled 4-1 one month later — with Justice John Hutchison dissenting and Justice Tim Armstead replaced by Berkeley County Circuit Judge Bridget Cohee — against Justice’s attorneys, kicking the case back to the lower court. O’Hanlon took over the case after King passed away Dec. 28.

The Governor’s Office declined to comment.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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