West Virginia governor says residency mandate ‘nebulous’

CHARLESTON, WV (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice’s attorneys asked the West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday to dismiss a legal challenge seeking to force him to live in the state capital, saying it’s a “nebulous” requirement that would entail “court-supervised monitoring” of the governor’s whereabouts.

The Republican’s filing comes amid lawsuits by Democratic state Del. Isaac Sponaugle that have accused Justice of violating a passage of the state Constitution stating the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.”

Justice is hoping that the state’s high court will rule in his favor amid a legal back-and-forth over the definition of the word “reside.” The billionaire has drawn criticism from Democratic and Republican members for being absent at the Capitol in Charleston amid litigation facing his expansive business holdings.

Justice’s lawyers argued in Friday’s filing that the question of where the governor lives is a political one. Voters can address it at the polls during Justice’s 2020 reelection bid, or lawmakers like Sponaugle can also act by arguing for impeachment if they see fit, Justice’s filing says. The ruling sought by Sponaugle, Justice’s attorney argue, would require courts to set a quota of how often the governor must be in Charleston.

“If such a mandate could issue, its enforcement would entail court-supervised monitoring of the Governor’s whereabouts,” Justice’s attorneys wrote. “In so doing, the courts would become overseers of the personal and political activity of the Governor. The absurdity of the proposition is unavoidable and the fundamental, constitutional principle of separation of powers prudently forbids it.”

Justice said in a statement Friday that he’s driven his “Chevy nearly 200,000 miles, meeting with local leaders and regular people from every corner of our state because that’s what a governor should do instead of just sitting behind a desk every single day and hosting lavish parties at night.”

The governor’s mansion in Charleston is a three-story Georgian Colonial of red brick, with Corinthian columns, a ballroom, library and private quarters for the governor. It is beside the state Capitol building and across from the Kanawha River. Justice’s modest four-bedroom personal home sits 100 miles away (160 kilometers) on less than an acre of land off a tiny two-lane road in rural Lewisburg, according to state real estate records valuing the property at $334,500. It’s not far from The Greenbrier, the lavish resort Justice owns.

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. Sponaugle had seen previous attempts at the suit thrown out. A lower court in October then denied the governor’s motion to dismiss Sponaugle’s challenge.

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