Hearing Set for Case to Force WV Governor to Live in Capital

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Can the governor of West Virginia be forced to live in the state capital? A persistent lawsuit seeking to do just that is back in court Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has been frequently criticized by members of both major parties for not spending time at the Charleston statehouse. Perhaps the most forceful condemnation has come from a Democratic lawmaker who has filed three lawsuits accusing Justice of violating a passage of the state Constitution that says the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.”

The result has been a legal back and forth centered on the definition of the word “reside.” There are also issues on the authority — and even the ability — of the courts to chaperone the whereabouts of the state’s chief executive.

A Wednesday hearing is expected to rehash some of those questions, including these posed by the governor’s lawyers: “Is he ‘residing’ in Charleston if he sleeps there but departs in the morning and spends his waking hours elsewhere? Conversely, is he ‘residing’ in Charleston if he spends some portion of his waking hours there but sleeps elsewhere?”

Justice, a Republican businessman with an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion, has seemed to grow tired of the case.

“This is a total waste of time,” he said Tuesday.

Whatever the case’s merits, records obtained by The Associated Press show it has cost the state about $20,000 for a private law firm to represent Justice. The governor also has beefed up his legal team, recently hiring George Terwilliger, a U.S. Department of Justice veteran who previously served as acting attorney general and now leads a “crisis management” team at a Washington, D.C., firm.

Justice has acknowledged that he lives in Lewisburg, a city about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the governor’s mansion in Charleston but not far from The Greenbrier, a lavish resort he owns that hosts a PGA tour and has been the site of an annual congressional getaway.

The lawmaker who filed the case, Democratic Del. Isaac Sponaugle, has said the governor should have to comply with the state Constitution and live in the capital. He also wants the governor to turn over documents such as tax returns, security logs, expenses and other records that would provide details on Justice’s location. His two previous attempts at the suit were thrown out on technicalities.

“That Constitution applies to him just as any average citizen out there on the street,” Sponaugle has said.