Eyewitness News digs deeper into questionable West Virginia Supreme Court purchases
CHARLESTON, W.VA. (WCHS, WVAH) —
In November, the Eyewitness News iTeam began telling you about extravagant spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Since then, we have outlined several areas where the court made questionable decisions concerning your tax dollars.
In his on-the-record conversation with Eyewitness News late last year, Chief Justice Allen Loughry maintained that he had very little to do with the extensive 2013 renovations of his chambers.
The Eyewitness News iTeam dug deeper to check the accuracy of those statements. We presented a Freedom of Information Act request to the court to obtain emails, drawings and other materials connected to the renovation project.
In light of these emails, we reached out to Loughry to see if he wanted to clarify any of what he said in our November interview. In an email, Loughry said he stands by his prior statement that he had no knowledge of the inflated and outrageous expenditures on furniture items such as the couch.
We present our findings in this story, in hopes that you can come to your own conclusions about who was running the show and making the call to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money.
In our November interview, we asked Loughry how much input he had in the renovations and furnishings of his office after he was elected in 2012 and came to the court in 2013.
"Well, very little. I mean, when I came into office, the renovations were a part of six and a half years of renovations, the first, third and fourth floors," Loughry said in that interview. "More than 96 percent of those renovations were completed by the time it came to my office. Mr. Canterbury put things together and came and asked for approval of, maybe do you like this desk or do you like this color or something like that."
Back in November, Loughry said he was only minimally involved in the decisions regarding the renovation of his chambers during his first year on the bench.
An examination of Loughry's emails, however, paint a different picture. Many of the communications were with Kim Ellis, the deputy director of Administrative Services.
On May 21, 2013, a meeting was scheduled to discuss the construction cost estimate for Loughry's chambers. The document was very detailed, with line items for each aspect of the project. Loughry indicated the 1 p.m. meeting time was "good for me."
On May 23, Loughry was sent shop drawings for his requested custom wood cabinets and wall panels. The construction estimate was $117,634 for the customized cabinets and office woodwork for which he asked.
Steve Canterbury, former state Supreme Court administrator, said Loughry was more involved than any of the justices in the remodeling of an office.
"He was there daily, often more than once," Canterbury said. "He could be found there easily enough if you needed to talk to him about anything. And you know, he was very, very specific about what he wanted."
Two weeks later, we see drawings and pictures of the now infamous wood medallion of West Virginia. The custom-designed artwork was destined to be placed in the chamber's floor and Loughry told us it was a surprise offering to him from Canterbury.
Loughry said he thinks the floor "is certainly very nice. I think that the price of the floor in my office is commensurate with the price of the floors in all of the other offices, with the exception of one which is actually more. But, Mr. Canterbury was in charge of these expenditures."
Eyewitness News obtained this drawing, however, made by Loughry himself, which outlines the floor plan for his office. Loughry included detailed notes about what he wanted and where he wanted it. The drawing shows where a hidden television would be placed on the wall and where a hidden refrigerator would stand in his assistant's space.
Regarding furnishings, Loughry wrote that, "This could be a single chair, a wider chair, or even two love seats with a couch in the middle. Whatever works with the space. I just want it to look professional and be comfortable."
Of course, this $32,000 couch adorned with $1,700 throw pillows was eventually selected.
And in the middle of the floor, you can clearly see Loughry's rendition of the wood medallion.
Canterbury said Loughry was "vitally involved with every single aspect of his office remodeling, including the floor, where clearly he wrote this, he drew this up for what he wanted and this is sort of how it ended up looking. He was, he couldn't have been more involved, and he knew what things cost. Not only because he was told, but in many cases the emails told him the estimates and the costs of whatever it was and the specifics of his office."
Loughry's emails show he was in direct contact with the Neighborgall Construction project manager. The justice had questions about lead paint on radiators, delivery dates and work updates.
And he kept a very close eye on the progress of the floor medallion. On June 29, 2013, Loughry sent an email at 1:05 a.m. that went into great detail about his vision for what the final product should look like.
Additional emails show Loughry receiving a color photograph of his soon-to-be delivered sectional sofa, and even going into the minute detail of the hardware on his cabinetry.
The total cost for the renovation of Loughry's chambers was $363,013.43.
Of that, $75,533.43 paid for his couch, office chairs, cocktail tables, desks, credenza, cornices, wood blinds, pillows and cabinet hardware.
The West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct's Canon One clearly states that a judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the West Virginia Supreme Court "should be above reproach. It should be the absolutely highest possible standards."
Loughry's emails and handwritten drawing directly contradict what he has publicly said about his knowledge and involvement in the appearance of his private chambers.
"I'm incredibly troubled by that and it's so disappointing. I hope, as the stories and so forth continue to come out more and more and more, that we demand absolute integrity, honesty and accountability from not only our court system but all public officials," Carmichael said.
Again, we did receive an emailed statement from Loughry's office standing by his prior statement that he had no knowledge of the inflated and outrageous expenditures, and any insinuation to the contrary is simply dishonest.