Updated Monday, March 1, 2021 at 5:40 p.m.
Gov. Jim Justice has agreed to abide by the state constitution and reside in Charleston during his second term in office. That decision follows a years-long battle in the courts that wound up in the hands of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the dismissal of the case from a circuit court.
Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Daniel P. O’Hanlon issued an order Monday dismissing the case against Justice.
According to the dismissal order — which is effective Monday — Justice “has represented that he intends to ‘reside’ in Charleston consistent with the definition of ‘reside’ in the Supreme Court opinion.” The dismissal order does not, however, specify how frequently the governor will stay in Charleston to comply with the constitution.
Article 7, Section 1 of the West Virginia Constitution states: the governor and the five other constitutional officers “shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office.”
Justice, a Republican, had long defended not living in Charleston and instead has — to date — kept his home in Lewisburg in Greenbrier County.
Isaac Sponaugle — an attorney from Pendleton County — brought the case against the governor in June 2018 while serving as a Democrat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The case made its way to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for oral arguments in October 2020. The justices mulled over whether to dismiss the case sent to them by a Kanawha County Circuit Court or let the case continue to proceed in the lower court.
A month later, the Supreme Court offered a 36-page opinion that said the lower court’s decision should stand and that the case should continue.
The state’s high court also defined “reside” — at least in this case — as “to live, primarily, at the seat of government; and requires that the executive official’s principal place of physical presence is the seat of government for the duration of his or her term of office.”
On Monday, Spoaugle applauded Justice for agreeing to abide by that definition.
By signing the order, Sponaugle said that he is satisfied with the governor complying with O’Hanlon’s decision.
“I believe in the Constitution, I believe in our rules and checks and balances in government. But those checks, and those constitutions are only effective if you try to enforce them — and that’s what I did,” Sponaugle told West Virginia Public Broadcasting by phone Monday.
Sponaugle said he believes the resolution to the case will come at the “betterment” of residents of the state.
“Sometimes, if you want things done against power, you’ve got to be able to fight for it and enforce it,” Spoaugle said, “which is what I did, and now it’s in compliance.”
According to the order, the court awarded Sponaugle $65,000 in fees and costs associated with the case.
An attorney representing Justice in the case referred requests for comment to a spokesman for the governor.
That spokesman, Jordan Damron, said Justice is “pleased” that the case has been resolved.
“The Governor will, of course, abide by the recent ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and he and Mr. Sponaugle agree that the case is now moot,” Damron said.