West Virginia Supreme Court hears governor’s residency case

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Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 10:45 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An attorney for West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice argued Wednesday in a residency requirement case that the state’s highest court shouldn’t be involved in deciding where the governor spends his nights.

Bipartisan criticism at the statehouse over the Republican billionaire living in Lewisburg, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the capital in Charleston, culminated in a legal challenge from Democratic Del. Isaac Sponaugle two years ago. Justice’s lawyers appealed to the state’s Supreme Court after a lower panel declined to throw out the case.

Both sides brought competing interpretations of the state Constitution’s clause that states the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.” Sponaugle argued the common sense meaning of the word “residency” holds that the governor needs to sleep in Charleston.

Justice’s attorney, George Terwilliger, said the term is vague and the court should not involve itself in a political decision over how the governor spends his time.

The justices questioned that position. “I think it’s an uphill battle for you, and I don’t think any court wants to get into telling the governor where he sleeps or micromanaging his schedule, but there’s something in between that would indicate a violation of the ‘shall’ requirement of the constitution,” Justice Margaret Workman told Terwilliger.

She suggested a lower court could “be useful in bringing some facts out.” A Kanawha circuit judge previously ruled against the governor’s motion to dismiss the case.

Terwilliger broadly argued that people can hold multiple residencies and Sponaugle’s “complaints sound in the nature of political complaints.”

Sponaugle told the justices, “You’re asked to put him in compliance of his constitutional duty.”

The issue also was raised during a Tuesday night debate between Justice and Democratic nominee for governor Ben Salango. Justice brushed aside questions over moving to Charleston. Lewisburg is close to Justice’s resort, the Greenbrier.

“From the standpoint of whether or not I drive to Lewisburg and turn around and drive right back, what in the world does that have anything to do with anything?” Justice said. “All I do is work.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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