West Virginia House Judiciary Committee Hears More About Loughry Allegations
CHARLESTON — Lawmakers met for day three of impeachment hearings on the conduct of the state’s High Court, with much of the focus on specific allegations against the court’s former chief justice.
The House Judiciary Committee met Thursday morning in the House Chamber a week after meeting for the first time to consider articles of impeachment against one or more justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Much of the focus of the impeachments hearings is on Justice Allen Loughry, who is suspended without pay. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed Tuesday a new charge of obstruction of justice against Loughry, bringing the total number of federal charges against Loughry to 23. That’s on top of a 32-count complaint from the state’s Judicial Investigation Commission.
Committee members heard testimony from staff members of the court’s security division, and from Jennifer Bundy, the public information officer for the court.
Bundy was questioned about her work relationship with Loughry and about a series of emails between Bundy and news reporters. In various investigations, Loughry is accused of allegedly taking furniture owned by the Supreme Court and having it put into his home for personal use. The furniture includes a couch owned by former Justice Joe Albright and left with the court, and an antique desk purchased by Cass Gilbert, the architect of the state Capitol Building.
During a series of news reports on Supreme Court spending by WCHS-TV in Charleston, reporter Kennie Bass found that Loughry had the couch and desk in his home. In a response to follow-up questions from Bass on Nov. 28, 2017, Bundy sent an email saying “the Court has a longstanding practice of providing Justices an opportunity to establish a home office,” including providing furniture.
According to testimony, on the same day Bundy sent that email out, Supreme Court Security Director Arthur Angus, Deputy Director Jess Gundy and security messenger Paul Mendez took a van to Loughry’s home to pick up the couch, which was being used in Loughry’s living room instead of the home office. A neighbor of Loughry’s took pictures.
Shortly after, Angus, Gundy and Mendez returned to Loughry’s home to retrieve the Cass Gilbert desk. Mendez testified that the schedule for picking up the desk was tied to whether the same neighbor was home, so they wouldn’t be noticed. Both items were sent to the Supreme Court’s warehouse in Kanawha City, although they were followed by a WCHS-TV news vehicle.
“(Loughry) said he was not asking me to do anything improper due to justices were allowed to have a home office,” Gundy said. “I took him at his word on it.”
Bundy testified Thursday that Loughry told her there was a policy for providing furniture to justices, and he dictated the response she gave to WCHS-TV and the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“Justice Loughry told me what to tell Mr. Bass,” Bundy said. “This is what he told me to tell (Bass) word-for-word.”
After Bundy’s statement to the press in November 2017, Justice Robin Davis asked Bundy who told her to say that. Bundy testified that she had no idea there wasn’t a policy at the time she told reporters there was a policy. As part of the exhibits for the committee, emails to Davis from the court’s director of administrative services and director of financial management said they could find no such policy on the use of state-owned furniture by justices for home offices.
“(Davis) asked me where I got that information from, and I said I got it from Justice Loughry and he told me to say that,” Bundy said. “Eventually I got a copy of this after it was sent to the reporter who requested it, and that was the first time I learned there was no such policy.”
“(Loughry) was pretty adamant that there was such a policy,” Bundy said. “He’s the chief justice, he’s a lawyer, he’s got four law degrees. I didn’t have any reason to doubt that was the case.”
Testimony Thursday also focused on vehicle use by Loughry. A legislative audit showed that Loughry didn’t list destinations for 70 percent of his trips using the court’s vehicle fleet. Loughry would also not inform security staff where he was going with state vehicles, the audit showed.
Until 2016, there was no policy by the Supreme Court on state vehicle use. In an email on August 25, 2016, Davis asked Angus and Gundy questions about the court’s lack of vehicle policy. In a response to that email, Angus and Gundy both confirmed there was no policy, which caused Loughry to stop speaking to the security personnel until January 2017, when Loughry fired former court administrator Steve Canterbury.
“At the time, he wasn’t speaking to us,” Angus said. “After the memo came out, (Loughry) got mad and told Jess (Gundy) that he was ashamed of us. After that point, he quit talking to Jess and I. He wouldn’t even look at us.”
Gundy testified that after Canterbury was fired by Loughry, keys for the vehicles were held by both the security staff and Loughry. Once legislative audits of court vehicle use were made public, all the keys were returned to the security staff.
Impeachment proceedings will continue today with a tour by committee members of Supreme Court offices. As of press time, the tour is off limits for members of the media.
Also, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, responded to a letter sent July 13 by interim court administrator Barbara Allen. In her letter, Allen called the committee’s impeachment investigation a “fishing expedition.”
“Your letter indicates that you believe this committee may be conducting a fishing expedition,” Shott wrote back. “I disagree with that characterization, as there have been issues that have been raised which are of great concern to members relating to the operation of the Supreme Court. It is the collective judgment of the Legislature that a broad inquiry is appropriate.”