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WV Chief Justice has court employees remove missing couch from his house

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A day after an item in a Gazette-Mail political column inquiring about the whereabouts of a couch missing from state Supreme Court offices, Chief Justice Allen Loughry had court employees remove a leather couch from his home on Scenic Drive in Charleston Monday afternoon.

Witnesses saw employees remove the couch from Loughry’s house and load it into a white van with a state government license plate at about 4 p.m. Monday.

In a statement, Loughry said the couch was not state property and was purchased by late Justice Joe Albright, whose Supreme Court office Loughry took over when he was sworn in as a justice in December 2012. Albright, who owned a furniture store in Parkersburg, died in 2009.

Justice Tom McHugh had the office in the interim, but made no changes to the office or its furnishings.

“The couch you are referring to is not state property. It was never state property,” Loughry stated. “It was the property of Justice Joe Albright. He purchased all of the furniture in his office. After he passed away, his family said they had no further use for it and they did not want the couch returned to them.”

It is not immediately clear when Loughry had the couch moved from the Capitol to his home, although renovations of his Supreme Court office began shortly after he joined the high court.

Loughry added, “Nonetheless, I am so sick of the lies and innuendo coming from our fired, disgruntled former administrator Steve Canterbury that I had the couch taken back to the Supreme Court warehouse.”

Loughry has been under fire for news reports regarding the Supreme Court spending $3.7 million to renovate court offices, with expenses including a $32,000 couch and $7,500 floor medallion outlining the counties of the state in Loughry’s office.

Loughry has blamed Canterbury, whom he fired in January after 11 years of service, for the excessive expenditures.

Loughry said he contacted Albright’s widow and son on Monday, and said both reiterated that they do not want the couch.

Loughry said that after speaking with Joe Albright Jr., “He told me he did not want the couch and for me to keep it. This is not state property. However, as I said previously, I am not keeping it, and the state can have it.”

Canterbury on Tuesday disputed whether Loughry could claim Albright’s couch as his personal property.

“If she left it, she left it for the state,” Canterbury said of Albright’s widow. “I say it’s de facto state property. She didn’t leave it for Allen Loughry. She didn’t know he existed at the time.”

If the couch is in fact a gift from Mrs. Albright or her son to Loughry, that potentially is a violation of the state Ethics Act, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts valued at more than $25.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy in a statement Tuesday argued that the couch is abandoned property, not a gift, stating, “The Ethics Act is not implicated.”

“Also for clarification, the Court has a longstanding practice of providing the justices an opportunity to establish a home office, with Court-provided technology equipment (i.e. computers) and furniture to suit their respective needs,” Bundy added.

Loughry Tuesday afternoon did not respond to a question regarding whether there is any other furniture in his home that needs to be returned to the state.

Bundy turned down a request to allow a Gazette-Mail photographer to photograph the couch in the Supreme Court warehouse.

As to whether it would be proper to store private property in a state-owned warehouse, Loughry stated earlier Tuesday that he believes the couch is once again public property.

“After reading [the Gazette-Mail] story and the innuendo within, and after the Albrights said they still did not want it back, I decided that I no longer wanted this couch under any circumstances,” Loughry said. “I did not want to keep getting accused of things. It’s just not worth it. As far as I am concerned it is now property donated to the state of West Virginia, so it is no longer private property. The court can use it. I would never store private property on state property under any circumstances.”

In June, the Ethics Commission fined Chris Jarrett, then-executive director of the West Virginia Water Development Authority, $4,500 for violating the state Ethics Act’s prohibition on using public office for private gain for storing personal furniture items at the authority’s headquarters.

Bundy, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said that since Loughry had donated the couch back to the state on Monday, there was no issue with having Supreme Court employees move the couch, using a state van.

“There is nothing wrong with state employees moving a donation to the state in a state van on state time,” Bundy said. “Yes, they were Supreme Court employees on work time using a state van. If anyone was trying to hide something or thought anything was improper, they certainly would not have moved the couch in the middle of the afternoon on a bright, sunny day.”

Reach Phil Kabler at [email protected], 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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