Court security official: Justice Loughry asked for couch, desk to be moved from his home

Jess Gundy, deputy director of security at the West Virginia Supreme Court, testifies Thursday before the state House Judiciary Committee. (West Virginia Public Broadcasting)

The deputy director of security for the West Virginia Supreme Court testified Thursday that he met with suspended Justice Allen Loughry who asked him to move a couch and desk out of Loughry's home to the state warehouse because of media scrutiny about the furniture.

“He made a point to tell me he wasn’t doing anything improper because justices are all allowed to have home offices,” Jess Gundy told the state House Judiciary Committee during its probe of possible impeachment proceedings for the court’s justices.

Four witnesses testified during the meeting Thursday. Committee members will resume their meeting at 9:15 a.m. Friday when they will play a video of Loughry when he made a presentation before the House Finance Committee. The video is part of the evidence the Judicial Investigation Commission considered in the investigation of Loughry and whether he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. After viewing the video, expected to take about 30 or 40 minutes, House Judiciary Committee members plan to take a tour of the Supreme Court justices' chambers. The tour is closed to the media.

During his testimony Thursday, Gundy said that he has been at Loughry's house three times, the first to move a couch the justice had moved to his house from the court. He said he met with Loughry who wanted to enlist his help to move the couch and desk from his house to the court’s warehouse. Gundy said Loughry said he wanted the furniture out of his office because of a newspaper article.

The deputy director of security said he didn't know exactly what couch and desk to which he was referring. He said the couch was in the living room and the desk was in a smaller room. Gundy said Loughry told him they could get the desk at a later time.

When asked about a photograph, Gundy said he is in the picture that has been widely seen of two guys moving a couch out of Loughry's home, with the justice following closely behind. Gundy said Loughry mentioned one of his neighbors was taking a photo.

The couch could not have fit into Loughry's home office where the historic Cass Gilbert desk was located, Gundy said. He also said he didn't see any other couches in the home.

Gundy said they all went to the court’s warehouse on Venable Avenue in Kanawha City, where they unloaded the couch. He said they then took the van back to a parking area at the court and went home. Gundy said they talked about soon moving the desk to the warehouse.

He said they decided to go to Loughry's home to move the desk out of the small room it was in to the garage, where it would be easier to move to a vehicle.

Two days later, Gundy and others met at the court, drove to Loughry's home and moved the desk.

Gundy said it was not easy moving the large desk, but that they managed to move it outside to a deck and then back inside to the garage. He said they went to Loughry's house twice, once to move the desk to the garage and once to the warehouse.

Gundy said they didn't move the desk immediately because Loughry said he wanted to wait for his picture-taking neighbor to leave before they moved the desk to the van and then the warehouse.

On the third trip to the house, Gundy said, they moved the desk to the van and then proceeded to the warehouse in Kanawha City. He said when they got to the warehouse, they drove inside and unloaded the desk, putting it into a room inside the facility.

Gundy said when they first left Loughry's house they noticed a Channel 8 car with Eyewitness News iTeam Lead Investigative Reporter Kennie Bass inside. At the warehouse, the garage door was open and when state employees noticed that an Eyewitness News crew was outside, they closed the door as the crew shot video of the door closing.

Gundy said moving furniture out of a justice's house was not a part of his duties and that it was an unusual request for Loughry to ask him to help move the couch and the historic Cass Gilbert desk.

Meanwhile, Gundy also testified about state vehicle use. He said Loughry had sets of keys to the state-owned vehicles, which he only returned after publicity in the media surfaced about his use of the vehicles.

Gundy said on many occasions when Loughry returned a state-owned vehicle after using it, the gas gauge was on empty and that he felt fortunate to be able to get it to a station to refill it. He also said Loughry told him on several occasions he did not need to tell anyone at the court system where he was taking a state-owned vehicle.

The court official also was asked about where the state-owned cars used by the justices are parked. He first said California Avenue, but quickly corrected to say Quarrier Street.

Below are the evidence exhibits that were introduced as part of Thursday's impeachment proceedings:

After the committee returned from taking a recess, Jennifer Bundy, public information officer for the state Supreme Court, was called to testify.

Bundy answered questions about home offices for the justices and about Loughry's involvement in the decisions regarding the remodeling of his chambers.

The public information officer answered questions about an email Kennie Bass, the lead investigative reporter for the Eyewitness News iTeam, sent in October 2017 when he first reached out to the courts to talk about Loughry’s chambers after Bass did a couple of months of research on documents and receipts.

Bundy said after sending a response to Bass, she was asked by Justice Robin Davis, where she got the information about the home office policy of the courts. Bundy said the information was provided by Loughry.

She said Loughry insisted there was court policy allowing home offices, saying he had discussed the matter extensively with then-court administrator Steve Canterbury. The justice produced a notebook he said contained notes from those conversations.

Bundy said after Canterbury was fired as court administrator, Loughry instructed employees not to talk with Canterbury anymore. She said Canterbury was her friend and that she would continue their relationship but not discuss court business.

She said she did not know about my interviews with Justices Loughry and Davis until they appeared on TV. Bundy said it was unusual that she wasn't in the loop because she normally would have been as part of her duties. She said she feared for her job, but was assured by Loughry it was not in jeopardy. He said she was sometimes kept out of the loop because of her relationship with Canterbury and that Loughry didn't want to put her in a compromising position, Bundy said.

In other testimony Thursday, Paul Mendez, an employee who is a "runner" for the court, testified that just about every time Loughry used a state vehicle the tank was empty when it was returned. Mendez was also responsible for the court's vehicle maintenance.

Mendez also testified that when they were moving the desk from Loughry's home to the warehouse that Loughry said "News 8" was following them and that he wanted to get the word out that the desk was gone from his home before we could take pictures of it.

Meanwhile, the final witness to testify Thursday was Arthur Angus, the head of court security. He testified about moving the couch from Loughry's home to the court’s warehouse. He says Loughry’s wife noticed that the neighbor across the street was taking pictures.

Angus said he went back a couple of days later to Loughry’s house to take the Cass Gilbert desk to the Venable Avenue warehouse.

The court security official testified that Bass was headed toward Loughry's house as they were leaving with the Cass Gilbert desk. They said as an Eyewitness News crew arrived at the Venable Avenue court’s warehouse, they closed the door.

He said he was worried about losing his job around the time he was requested to go to Loughry's house to move the couch and desk. He said he could have refused but did not.

Angus also testified about how the vehicle reservation system worked.

“Justice Loughry, he never told us where he was taking his car,” he said.

Angus said Loughry was angry with him for telling the truth when he remarked that Loughry was the only justice who did not tell court security where he was going with state-owned vehicles.

On another matter, Angus testified he didn't go to political function with Justice Davis in Parkersburg. When asked if he wasn't concerned for her safety, Angus said he was always concerned for justices' safety, but he couldn't go to a political event or else lawmakers would be asking about it.

Last week, committee members interviewed several witnesses, including the legislative auditor and the former technology director of the Supreme Court. Questionable spending practices, travel and use of state resources at the state Supreme Court, which have been detailed in Eyewitness News iTeam investigative stories, have prompted the legislative probe.

In previous testimony, the committee has heard about the court’s use of state computers in justice’s homes, use of state and rental vehicles and the Cass Gilbert desk that ended up in Loughry’s home.

Committee members continue their investigation Thursday after another development in the case of Loughry. Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday they have filed a new obstruction charge against Loughry in a superseding indictment in which he now faces 23 charges.

The House panel said it will not consider any evidence against Justice Menis Ketchum since he is retiring and resigning from office effective at the end of the business day on July 27.

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