West Virginia Supreme Court Spending – Part 2

Eyewitness News Lead Political Reporter Kennie Bass unveils even more spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court that includes the remodeling of a small, private restroom that cost nearly $100,000. (WCSH/WVAH)

It's the story that set the Capitol abuzz Tuesday. Legislators, staff members and state workers are all talking about the Eyewitness News exclusive investigation into spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Monday night, Eyewitness News told you about a $32,000 sectional sofa, a $7,500 custom floor design, an $8,000 office chair and a $28,000 rug.

Tuesday night, in the second part of an investigation you will only see here, Eyewitness News Lead Political Reporter Kennie Bass, unveils even more spending.

We've already told you about the renovation and remodeling costs for the five chambers of West Virginia's Supreme Court Justices, including some of the more interesting furniture purchases, such as that infamous $32,000 couch which is in Chief Justice Allen Loughry's chambers.

Tuesday, Eyewitness News continues our exclusive investigation with a look outside of the justices' offices and more expenditures that were paid for with your tax dollars.

The five West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices all work in recently renovated chambers. The more than 70-year-old Capitol is showing its age, so the decision was made nearly a decade ago to upgrade the court's workspace.

Electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning and structural concerns were all addressed.

“It was extremely important to take care of some structural issues, electrical issues, heating and cooling issues, plumbing issues,” said Justice Allen Loughry, chief justice for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. “We have a magnificent building, and we have to take care of this building.”

“I can just tell you that it was a long time coming. And at one point on the fourth floor we had our court lawyers, four and five lawyers in one room. You know, the working conditions were abysmal,” Justice Robin Davis said.

But as Eyewitness News discovered, the court didn't stop there. New furniture was purchased, shelves and cabinets were assembled and windows were treated with blinds and cornices.

Over the years, the price tag for the project ballooned from an estimated $876,000 to more than $3.7 million.

When you venture outside of the justices' chambers, you find where some of that money went.

A custom carpet runner for the long hallway in the secure, private area where the justices' and their assistant work carried a hefty cost.

“I asked Mr. Canterbury, I said how much was this carpet? I've heard it was very expensive,” Loughry said. “He told me it was $17,000. I told him that I thought that was ridiculous. I've now uncovered that it was more than $58,000. But this is just one more example of a long line of misfeasance and malfeasance and mismanagement by Mr. Canterbury, and we're going to get to the bottom of all of it."

Loughry is talking about former court administrator Steve Canterbury, whom he led the effort to fire in January. Canterbury was in charge of the renovation project, but he said members of the court, including Loughry, called the shots.

“He really put a lot of his effort into every detail,” Canterbury said. “And you know, unlike the other justices who basically said, 'OK, during the summer, you're going to remodel my office. I'm going to be away. If I come in, I'll just poke my head in for a second.' But he was there every day. He took one of the clerk's offices upstairs. He came in every day. To work, but also to make sure that he had kind of a hands on approach."

Canterbury said he never told Loughry the hallway carpet cost $17,000. He said that simply is not true.

“Justice Loughry was none too fond of me. He made that pretty clear, pretty often, pretty early, until he just stopped speaking to me entirely,” Canterbury said.

Another project with an eye-catching cost is a private combined safe room/bathroom, including a shower, located out of sight behind where the justices sit when court is in session. The remodeling of a small restroom that is rarely used cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 ($98,513). And Loughry said the bathroom was Canterbury's pet project.

"Mr. Canterbury, in fact, used to call himself a constitutional officer and claimed to me that he had independent, sovereign authority and that I couldn't do anything with regard to him because he had three other votes on the court,” Loughry said.

Canterbury said it was the justices who made up the 2011 court who approved of the safe room and restroom design and even insisted on equipping it with a shower.

“I don't begrudge the fact that we have a dome on the Capitol and a beautiful Capitol. The business could be done in a cinderblock building. But there's something that is symbolic and something that is important about that presentation. So, I don't begrudge them presentation, but there's a limit. And you know, the line is pretty clear. You can stretch it a little here and there but finally you just plain old break that line and I think it was broken here,” Canterbury said.

Moving downstairs to the first floor hallway in the east wing of the Capitol that leads to the office of the court administrator, Loughry said Canterbury was responsible for spending even more money.

“There were some expenditures which were absolutely ridiculously expensive by Mr. Canterbury, and I will never defend those expenditures. I think he should be held personally accountable for that,” Loughry said.

The chief justice said new lighting and the cleaning and polishing of the marble walls was something outside of the scope of the renovation project. That work, however, took place in 2013, when Loughry was in his first year on the bench.

Architectural fees, upgrading the lighting and refurbishing the marble cost nearly $80,000 ($79,167).

"The court alone is in charge of its money, as it were,” Canterbury said. “The Legislature can't decide how much they're going to appropriate for the court. The court comes over and tells the Legislature what they're going to get. It's the only part of government that's able to do that,”

“As we learn and continue to learn and we look into everything,” Loughry said, “our investigation is pretty thorough and it is being aided by federal authorities. And we're going to get to the bottom of this stuff. We just are.”

Eyewitness News talked with Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Del. Michael Folk. Both are interested in introducing bills for the upcoming legislative session which would mandate a vote on a constitutional amendment. If that happens, West Virginians would cast ballots about whether the judiciary budget should be under the control of the state Senate and House of Delegates. Because right now, that is not the case.

Eyewitness News hopes to talk with Gov. Jim Justice Wednesday and get his take on how the judiciary is handling its finances.

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