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Buzzer Sounds on Justice Coaching Saga

Our long state nightmare is over: Gov. Jim Justice has decided to stop pursuing the head coaching job for the Greenbrier East High School boys’ basketball team.

After being denied the job by the Greenbrier County Board of Education and after filing a grievance believing he was illegally denied the job, an attorney for Justice released a letter the Governor wrote to the board members announcing the withdrawal of the grievance and his decision to decline seeking the job any further.

“The law clearly states that the most qualified applicant has to be hired…nevertheless, I am withdrawing my name from pursuing the Head Boys’ Basketball Coach position. I refused to spend time fighting HATE.”

Speaking on WV MetroNews Talkline last week, Justice’s personal attorney Steve Ruby said Justice dropped the grievance due to the time-consuming nature of the process. It would have left Greenbrier East without a head boys’ basketball coach during the process and Justice didn’t want to see the team handicapped as it begins practice for the upcoming season.

I’ve made my feelings known about this whole “scandal” in a previous column, but other than it involving the governor of the State of West Virginia, I just didn’t see where this story needed to be blown up into a statewide issue. It was, at best, a local story for Greenbrier County media to follow, or a story for the sports department.

Do I think Justice needs to be coaching high school sports while working full-time as the governor? No. He already coaches Greenbrier East’s girls’ basketball team, which involves him coaching home and away games in the middle of the yearly 60-day legislative session when any other governor would be meeting with lawmakers and making sure his agenda makes it through the sausage-making process.

Now, governors usually have an extensive legislative liaison staff, and I know Justice does for sure. I know he works the phones, brings lawmakers to the Governor’s Mansion, and even sits legislators around tables to make things happen. However, I would have to imagine that Justice’s basketball jones probably is a distraction. Certainly, the grievance process would have been a distraction.

Now the drama has received national attention from the New York Times and the Washington Post, with the same people obsessed over the issue now upset that the nationals are elevating the issue. That’s what happens when a local issue gets elevated to a statewide issue. At the end of the day, there are worse things the governor could be doing, and it should be an issue left up to that local community.

I was amused, however, that on the grievance paperwork Justice filed, it included the address of the Governor’s Mansion as his home address.

Outside of using the Governor’s Mansion in Charleston as a meeting place prior to going to the Governor’s Reception Room for his Monday-Wednesday-Friday COVID-19 briefings, Justice usually gets back into his SUV, drives through the Charleston East End Wendy’s and heads back to Lewisburg in Greenbrier County where he lives.

The issue over Justice not residing in Charleston as required by the state Constitution is returning though. Former Pendleton County lawmaker Isaac Sponaugle gave the Governor a 30-day notice that a new lawsuit is coming over the constitutional residency issue.

Sponaugle sued Justice previously over this issue. The state Constitution requires the governor and all constitutional elected officers of the Board of Public Works to reside in the seat of government, and until the powers-that-be decide to move the Capitol back to Wheeling, Charleston is the seat of government.

That lawsuit was dropped after Justice agreed to reside in Charleston based on a definition the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals came up with for “reside” – “to live, primarily, at the seat of government…the executive official’s principal place of physical presence is the seat of government for the duration of his or her term of office.”

Based on my observations, Justice is not living at the Governor’s Mansion or anywhere in Charleston.

The question is what will the courts do? I can’t imagine the circuit court judge who approved the original settlement of the issue will be happy to see that Justice never abided by that agreement. Justice and his attorneys agree to the Supreme Court’s definition of “reside,” so I suspect it won’t be hard to prove Justice hasn’t met the criteria.

However, I still think the same issues exist now that existed before. How is a court, if it determines that Justice is not residing in Charleston and orders him to follow the state Constitution, supposed to enforce that order? What percentage of the time should Justice’s head be on a pillow at any point inside Charleston city limits? Will Justice have to wear an ankle monitor and be led back to the Governor’s Mansion in cuffs?

At the end of the day, whether the Governor is residing in the seat of government is a political question, not a legal question. It should be determined not by a court of law, but through articles of impeachment in the House of Delegates and an impeachment trial in the Senate. I’m not advocating for that, and I don’t think legislative Republicans have a desire to go down that road.

Considering various presidents of the United States can run the country from a cabin in Maryland, a resort in Florida, a ranch in Texas and from an airplane over international waters, it’s probably time to acknowledge that technology allows a government leader to work from anywhere. It’s probably time for lawmakers to look at the residency requirement in the state Constitution and amend it.

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