Delegate Must Refile Suit Against Justice

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice addresses at news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that striking teachers would return to work on Thursday, and that he’s offering teachers and school service personnel a 5-percent pay increase in the first year. (AP Photo/John Raby)

CHARLESTON — In a technicality, a Kanawha County judge dismissed a case that would have determined if West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was following the state constitution by not residing in the state capital.

Circuit Judge Charles King released his ruling Monday afternoon regarding a writ of mandamus filed by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, petitioning the court to order Justice to live in Charleston.

King dismissed the petition because Sponaugle didn’t give the state 30 days’ notice of his intent to file suit against the state. State code 55-17-3(a)(1) requires anyone filing suit also file notice with the agency or department being sued, as well as the state attorney general.

“It is undisputed that (Sponaugle) did not comply with the pre-suit notice requirements…prior to instituting this action,” King wrote in his ruling.

Article 7 of the state constitution requires the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and attorney general to “reside at the seat of government during their terms of office.” The seat of government is defined as Charleston, the permanent capitol of the state since 1921.

“I respectfully disagree with the ruling today by the Circuit Court,” Sponaugle said in a statement. “I believe that if this issue is heard by the West Virginia Supreme Court, then it would be overturned. With that said, I’m not interested in fighting over an appeal for the next 6 to 8 months on a 30-day notice letter. I want the merits of this Writ of Mandamus to be decided in a timely fashion and not drag on in court for the next 18 months.”

Sponaugle first filed his petition for a writ of mandamus June 19. Mike Carey, an attorney with Carey, Scott, Douglas and Kessler and the outside counsel for Justice, filed a motion to dismiss the Sponaugle petition July 12. King heard both sides during a hearing Aug. 27.

Sponaugle later sent out a 30-day notice Aug. 9 as a precaution in case the petition was dismissed. He plans to re-file the petition next week with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

“As a result, I can refile my action at any time with either the Circuit Court of Kanawha County or the West Virginia Supreme Court,” Sponaugle wrote in his statement. “I want Governor Jim Justice to follow the WV Constitution and show up to work. I’m not interested in the Governor’s delay tactics to run out the clock until his term expires, twenty-seven months from now. I want this matter resolved in a timely manner by the highest court of the State of West Virginia.”

Calls for comment from Carey and the governor’s office were not returned. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Justice released a statement dismissing Sponaugle’s petition as a publicity stunt.

“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,” Justice said. “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.”


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