By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After two weeks of denying Gazette-Mail requests to tour its warehouse in Kanawha City, the Supreme Court Tuesday provided media access to the facility, currently housing an antique walnut “Cass Gilbert” desk and a leather couch recently removed from the home of Chief Justice Allen Loughry.
Inside the nondescript, one-story warehouse on Venable Avenue is a typical assortment of office workplace items cast off from the Supreme Court and other courts around the state, including old desktop computer towers, office chairs, desks and all manner of other materials.
Ostensibly, Loughry had the furniture in his house to furnish a court-provided home office, although responses to a subsequent Freedom of Information request determined that there is no written policy, and apparently no verbal policy, authorizing justices to use court property to furnish those offices.
On Nov. 27, a day after an item in the Gazette-Mail cited speculation about the disappearance of the couch, which was in the office Loughry took when he was sworn in as a justice in December 2012, during court renovations, Loughry had two court employees move the couch out of his house.
Three days later, Supreme Court employees returned to his house to take the antique desk and move it to the Kanawha City warehouse.
Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy confirmed Tuesday that the desk is one of the original court furnishings used by justices when the East Wing opened in 1927. The desks are informally known as “Cass Gilbert” desks for the Capitol architect who also supervised selection of furnishings for the Capitol.
Loughry at the time did not comment on the return of the desk, but said he returned the couch because of “lies and innuendos” regarding his possession of the item.
“I decided I no longer wanted the couch under any circumstances,” he said at the time. “I did not want to keep getting accused of things. It’s just not worth it.”
Loughry initially said the couch was private property that belonged to Albright’s widow and son, and that they did not want it, “and for me to keep it.”
Since the state Ethics Act prohibits public officials from accepting gifts valued at more than $25, and since the Ethics Commission has previously ruled it is a violation to store private property in taxpayer funded facilities, Loughry subsequently said the couch was abandoned property, not a gift, and that he had donated it to the state upon its transfer to the warehouse.
On Monday, the Gazette-Mail again asked the court for permission to access the warehouse, or to be provided with a written response “as to why a publicly funded facility is off-limits to public scrutiny.”
That afternoon, Justice Robin Davis submitted a written response, stating, “Since the first media inquiry, I consistently have voted to permit immediate access to the court’s warehouse to photograph the Cass Gilbert desk and the blue-green leather couch. I see no reason why the court’s warehouse, which is a publicly-funded facility, would be off limits to public scrutiny.”
Apparently after a judicial conference Tuesday, the Gazette-Mail was notified it would be granted access to the warehouse. Bundy said judicial votes on such internal matters are confidential.
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