Responses filed in residency petition

CHARLESTON — Attorneys for Gov. Jim Justice have filed a response to a petition filed by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, asking the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to require the governor to abide by the state Constitution by residing in Charleston.

When Sponaugle read the response filed Tuesday by Justice attorneys Michael Carey and David Pogue, he was reminded of another famous chief executive who argued over the meaning of a word.

“My first reaction was they were going with the Bill Clinton ‘it depends on your meaning of ‘is’ is’ defense,” Sponaugle said.

Article 7 of the West Virginia Constitution makes it clear that 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. Carey and Pogue argue in their response that neither Sponaugle or the state Constitution define “reside.”

“(Sponaugle) filed the Petition…again seeking a writ directing (Justice) to ‘reside’ at the seat of government without even attempting to offer a definition of ‘reside’ or explain what exactly he wants this court to direct respondent to do,” the attorneys wrote.

According to a log of Justice’s public appearances provided by Carey and Pogue, Justice has made 167 public appearances in Charleston over two years, though the logs contain no complete information regarding Justice’s time working out of his office or the Governor’s Mansion.

“These 167 public appearances belie (Sponaugle’s) characterization of an absentee governor who is never present at the seat of government,” the attorneys wrote. “The log further demonstrates that (Justice) has appeared at well over 100 additional public events in 28 different counties throughout the State.”

While Carey and Pogue are using the governor’s log as proof that Justice is doing his job, Sponaugle said the log is more interesting for what it doesn’t show.

“It appears that they acknowledge in attaching their exhibits that it’s questionable whether he spent one night at the Governor’s Mansion,” Sponaugle said. “Certainly, less than 10 nights and he’s been in office 640 days.”

As for definitions, Carey and Pogue argue that it all depends on the meaning of “reside.”

“The duty to ‘reside’ at the seat of government is neither plain in point of law nor clear in matter of fact,” Justice’s attorneys wrote. “Indeed, this court has recognized that the word ‘reside’ is ‘chameleon-like, and ‘like a slippery eel,’ with no clear, rigid definition, and (Sponaugle) has not even attempted to offer a definition or explain the precise parameters of the duty he seeks to enforce.”

Sponaugle said his goal is to require Justice to live and work out of Charleston as the Constitution requires. Lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum have raised concerns over the last year about Justice spending too much time at his home in Lewisburg, and for handing off his responsibilities to advisors, such as former TV mogul Bray Cary.

“It appears to me that it’s a stretch to even call him a part-time governor at this point,” Sponaugle said. “The criticisms that are around the Capitol are bipartisan criticisms that we’re actually under reign of Gov. Bray Cary holds true after seeing this.”

The first petition from Sponaugle was filed June 19 in Kanawha County Circuit Court, but it was dismissed because the state was not given a 30-day notice before filing the petition. After the first filing, Sponaugle filed the 30-day notice on Aug. 9 in case his first petition was dismissed. The case was re-filed Sept. 18 at the Supreme Court.

After receiving both responses from Sponaugle and Justice, the Supreme Court will look at the arguments and decide whether to issue an order for a rule to show cause. If the court does that, they’ll set dates for oral arguments.