The House Judiciary Committee continued its fifth day of impeachment hearings Thursday, which was consumed by testimony from former West Virginia Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury.
Before taking testimony, Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee issued a subpoena for Loughry’s wife, who asked for a delay to obtain counsel.
Canterbury’s testimony mainly centered on suspended Justice Allen Loughry. He testified about renovations to Loughry’s office, personal items that were framed at the court’s expense, and Loughry’s decision to take home a couch that belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright. Canterbury also testified about the decline of his relationship with Loughry, in particular.
Committee Counsel Marsha Kauffman’s first line of questioning focused on the court’s usage of state cars, which Canterbury said was brought on by publicity on the use of state cars in general. This led Justice Robin Davis to inquire with Canterbury about the court’s usage of state vehicles.
Canterbury said Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned, asked back in 2007 if he could use one of the court’s Buicks to commute. He said Ketchum was the only justice who used the car for commuting.
Davis later sent a memo to Canterbury in 2016 because she wanted more information on how court cars were assigned and used. Canterbury said Davis expressed concerns that the use of vehicles was not appropriate.
Canterbury said in response, Loughry asked about dinners held at Davis’ home when judicial conferences were hosted in Charleston, as well as a cocktail party held in Wyoming during a chief justice annual meeting.
He said Loughry contended Davis’ concerns about his vehicle usage was a distraction from these dinners.
Canterbury said there had been only one instance where food was partially funded by the court and one where bus transportation was funded by the court.
Canterbury said justices later voted 3-2, with Davis and former Justice Brent Benjamin as the two voting against, voted that justices did not need to be asked why they were taking the vehicles.
“The presumption was if they were taking a car, it must be for appropriate use,” Canterbury said.
Canterbury recalled a conversation with Loughry about moving a couch to his house. Previous testimony indicated that Loughry took home a couch that belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright, along with other furnishings including computers and a Cass Gilbert desk.
“He told me he thought he would take that couch home for his home office,” Canterbury said. “My reaction, frankly, was ‘what?’ But I said OK. I wanted to try to serve those guys. I asked to arrange for moving and he said he would take care of it.”
Canterbury also testified about renovations to justices’ offices. Kauffman asked Canterbury about Loughry’s contention that he had little input into these renovations. Canterbury said this was not true and that Loughry had daily involvement with renovations and wrote emails around the clock detailing his specifications.
“He was very involved,” Canterbury said. “He was more involved than any other justice, by a longshot.”
Canterbury also said Loughry sketched a floor plan of how he wanted his office to look, including a floor medallion depicting a county map of West Virginia. Canterbury said Loughry also specified that Tucker County, which is where Loughry is from, to be “blue pearl granite.”
Canterbury said he had a brief conversation with Loughry about the cost of the couch in his office. He said he brought up to Loughry that the price tag was $32,000.
“I happened to catch him in the hall and said this couch is $32,000. Want me to go through with this? His answer in hindsight seems to be prophetic,” Canterbury said. “He said, yes, and if it ever becomes public, I’ll blame it on you. You’re the administrator. And he chuckled.”
Canterbury said other than that conversation, he had nothing to do with the couch. Canterbury said Loughry, Loughry’s wife, and Loughry’s secretary went to Carpet Gallery and picked out a blue suede fabric, which was the reason for the couch’s hefty price tag.
Canterbury also said Loughry had several items framed –including a page of uncut $2 bills, newspaper articles, a poster of his book, a swearing in photo along with his first written opinion and syllabus page. Canterbury said two items he never saw in Loughry’s office. These were a watercolor picture of Loughry’s name, which was painted after his wedding, and an etching of the building Loughry and his wife were married.
Canterbury estimated the cost of framing to be in the $10,000-$12,000 range.
In addition to the furnishings, Canterbury said Loughry also had other requests for his office including a standing desk and a taller toilet.
Canterbury also detailed renovations done to other justices’ offices. He said the majority of Davis’ renovations were structural in nature, saying workers even found paper-covered wiring in the walls. He estimated three-fourths of the cost of renovations to her office were structural in nature. However, he said there were a few expensive items including an expensive chair and rugs. He said Chief Justice Margaret Workman also had an expensive floor in the foyer of her office.
Canterbury also testified on his relationship with Loughry. He said he felt the beginning could have been an instance where Loughry was a clerk at the court. He said an employee came to him, saying Loughry made sexually harassing comments to her. Canterbury said he went to former Justice Spike Maynard and told him about Loughry’s conduct. After that, he said the comments stopped.
Canterbury said his relationship with Loughry went downhill shortly after Loughry was elected. Canterbury said Loughry told him he knew Canterbury advised a former justice to fire him when he worked for the court as a law clerk. Canterbury said this conversation between him and the former justice never happened.
Canterbury said in 2014, Loughry told him he wanted Canterbury to submit his resignation because he felt Canterbury had disrespected him with a comment referencing his age. Canterbury said he didn’t remember saying this either. From that point, Canterbury said Loughry didn’t speak to him and would reference him in third person even when he was in the room.
Canterbury testified about his firing, saying he worked for the court for 11.5 years before Loughry fired him.
“I said every cloud has a silver lining. I said, at least I won’t have to work for a simulacrum in chief like you,” Canterbury said referring to Loughry, who had taken the position of chief justice days before.
Canterbury later defined the word he used to call Loughry, saying it means an “elaborate fraud.”
“I think he’s dishonest. I don’t think he has the temperament to be a justice. I don’t think he has the temperament to be in charge of hiring people. I found his entire tone to be off-putting,” Canterbury said in response to a question from Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, on why Canterbury called Loughry a “simulacrum.”
For today’s schedule, the committee will review information on construction cost. Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee likely will not meet next week but will meet the following week.