CHARLESTON — Three security staffers at the state Supreme Court admitted during impeachment hearings to helping embattled Justice Allen Loughry move a couch and antique desk out of his home, while evading neighbors and media.
The court’s spokeswoman also testified Loughry directed her statements to media regarding home offices being a tradition of the Supreme Court, though other justices had no recollection of such a perk.
The House Judiciary Committee heard a full day of testimony Thursday July 19 while considering the possible impeachment of one or more justices.
Attention has focused on Loughry, who faces a 23-count federal indictment with a variety of charges, including obstruction of justice.
He is accused of guiding lavish renovations to his office at the Capitol, as well as taking home a couch that belonged to former Justice Joseph Albright, plus an antique desk associated with famed Capitol architect Cass Gilbert, a historic rarity. Worse, Loughry stands accused of lying to federal investigators.
The Judiciary Committee will make recommendations to the full House of Delegates, which would consider articles of impeachment. From there, the state Senate would serve as a jury, considering whether to remove Loughry and possibly other justices from office.
The centerpiece of Friday’s agenda is to be a tour of the Supreme Court, including justices’ chambers. Media members have been denied access to the tour, though broadcasters and newspapers were appealing that decision.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said he does not want the tour to be distracting at the court, but he understands there are valid reasons for lawmakers to see the layout first-hand after hearing descriptions of lavish renovations.
“I really think our members want to look at the Cass Gilbert desk just to see how distinctive it is because there is indication on one of the docu-ments that maybe Justice Loughry didn’t know what kind of desk it was until later,” said Shott, R-Mercer.
“That might be relevant. And then, of course, the renovations are of concern to everybody. They just want to get a sense of what was done.”
Testimony would then break until next Thursday, likely with former Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury taking the stand.
“He is in the middle of everything — all the testimony — so that could very well consume a day,” Shott said.
The rest of the schedule has depended on the availability of additional witnesses. Some have asked to be represented by attorneys.
“We’re going to have a couple subpoenas issued,” Shott said.
On Thursday, three members of the court security staff testified about going to Loughry’s house to remove the controversial furniture. Jess Gundy, Paul Mendez and Arthur Angus said they were willing participants in the furniture move.
Gundy said Loughry “requested my help moving a couch from his residence. He made sure to tell me he wasn’t asking me to do anything improper.”
Each testified the move was meant to avoid photographs taken by Loughry’s neighbors or coverage by media.
“Let’s go, she’s gone,” Angus recalled Loughry saying of his neighbor at the moment the coast was clear.
The couch was first moved to Loughry’s garage, requiring more than an hour of trying to get it through a door. Then it was loaded into a truck to be moved to a warehouse.
As they left with the furniture “We saw a Channel 8 vehicle coming up the hill. It appeared to be Kennie Bass,” Gundy said.
Bass was the reporter who first broke stories about lavish spending on the remodeling of Supreme Court offices.
Mendez said Loughry told the group he wanted to announce he had gotten the Cass Gilbert desk out of his house before the cameras could capture images of the move.
“News 8 was following us, and he wanted to report it to the press before they could see it,” Mendez said.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked whether it was appropriate — or even lawful — for state employees to help Loughry move furniture from his home. “Nowhere is it his function in the court to be a furniture mover,” Pushkin said.
“It seems that the court has been referring to a ‘home office policy’ that we’ve yet to find because it doesn’t exist. There is no home office policy,” Pushkin said.
That was the focus of testimony by Jennifer Bundy, the court’s spokeswoman.
When controversy first began, Bundy received questions about the desk and the couch from various media outlets. She said Loughry initially guided her to respond that the court had a longstanding policy of allowing home offices.
Bundy said the morning after the statement appeared in local media, at least three people told her that Justice Robin Davis was looking for her. Davis wondered where she had heard of such a policy.
Bundy said she responded, “Justice Loughry told me to say that, word for word. He was pretty adamant that there was such a policy.”
Staff counsel asked Bundy if court employees had any contact with Justice Loughry about Canterbury’s firing as court administrator. Loughry initially blamed Canterbury for many of the decisions that the justice now faces charges over.