West Virginia Supreme Court spent thousands on lunches for justices, staff

For two years, the West Virginia Supreme Court ordered out 108 times, buying a total of 1,141 lunches. Each of those outings cost taxpayers an average of $179. (WCHS/WVAH)

West Virginia's Supreme Court justices make $136,000 a year. Combined, the five justices are paid $680,000 annually.

Eyewitness News continues its exclusive iTeam investigation into court spending, this time with a look at justices ringing up thousands of dollars in meal costs.

For years, the court treated every week as its own private “Restaurant Week” with taxpayers covering the tab.

Documents and receipts from 2016 and 2017 revealed the court spent $19,324 taxpayer dollars in that two-year span on meals for justices, clerks, administrators, security personnel and other staffers.

“I think it's a horrible misuse, an irresponsible use of the people's money,” Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said. “Unfortunately, after everything else we've heard, I can't say I'm surprised.”

For two years, the Supreme Court ordered out 108 times, buying a total of 1,141 lunches. Each of those outings cost taxpayers an average of $179.

“That's serious money,” Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, said. “I mean, that's more money than what many of my constituents make in a year. And there's just so much corruption going on in state government anymore.”

The justices were not ordering cheap food. Their most popular destination was South Hills Market and Cafe, which they ordered from 32 different times.

Soho's was another favorite of the court. The justices sampled the eatery’s Italian menu 26 times.

They also ordered from Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille, The Block, Paterno's at the Park, Lola's Pizza, Bluegrass Kitchen, Tricky Fish, Bridge Road Bistro, Pies and Pints and Ellen's Ice Cream.

When Eyewitness News asked the court about its meal practices, we received this statement:

“Please note that these meal charges are related to working lunches for the court. The court has in recent years chosen to remain on the bench without a lunch break until all arguments are concluded as a convenience to litigants and lawyers.”

McGeehan said, however, that his hunch is that "they’re completely out of touch with reality. I mean, right now they have unilateral power over their own budget and I just think they've gotten away from, you know, what they should be doing and that's just public service.”

Pushkin said he doesn’t think it’s a partisan issue.

“You know, we're supposed to be good stewards of the people's money,” he said.

Eyewitness News contacted the Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia. A spokesperson declined to comment, saying all investigations are confidential unless a statement of charges or admonishments are issued. The JIC would neither confirm nor deny any investigation into the lunch spending practices of the court.

“In the United States of America, elected officials -- we're elected officials -- representatives of the people, we're not supposed to be living like kings and queens,” Pushkin said.

On Tuesday, Eyewitness News was contacted by state Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker about the free meals.

Walker said on Dec. 29, 2017, she gave the court administrator a check for $2,019.24 for reimbursement to the court for one-fifth of the amount spent on lunches for the justices and staff in 2017.

The court's public information officer said the last taxpayer-funded lunch was on Nov. 14, 2017. She said there are no plans to continue them in the future.

McGeehan is outraged by what has happened.

“Look, some laws may have been broken. I think we should definitely look into this kind of thing and if necessary impeach 'em, impeach 'em all," McGeehan said.

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