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WV Lawmakers Get Some Answers on State Supreme Court Budget

One reason cited for the high cost of the West Virginia Supreme Court office renovations is the age and historic nature of the Capitol building. (Wikipedia)
One reason cited for the high cost of the West Virginia Supreme Court office renovations is the age and historic nature of the Capitol building. (Wikipedia)
July 27, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Former Administrative Director of the Courts of West Virginia Steve Canterbury testified before the state's House Judiciary Committee yesterday, answering important questions about the West Virginia Supreme Court's budget.

According to Canterbury, the court padded its budget for years and built up a $29 million surplus by 2012. He said they were anticipating costs, from magistrate raises and remodeling court offices, to costs for family and drug courts.

One big item was a Unified Judicial Application Information System (UJA), which centralized all filings. The system allows every court to know if, for example, another court had filed a domestic violence protective order.

Canterbury, whose testimony was live-streamed, described UJA as expensive and behind schedule.

"It was pretty clear that over the next few years, certain monies would be spent, because they had approved the UJA," he explained. "And they were very hopeful that there would be a raise for the judges, justices, etc."

Canterbury testified for the full fifth day of hearings on possible impeachment of the state Supreme Court justices.

The court sets its own budget, and those of all state courts. Many state legislators dislike that, saying it allows for mismanagement and extravagant spending.

Four years later, he said, the court had spent all but about $300,000 of those carryover funds, although it has built up another surplus since. Canterbury also told the committee the court started spending the money after two ranking Democratic senators had sharply criticized it during a Finance Committee hearing.

"Senators [Roman] Prezeioso and [John] Unger were just livid about the huge amount of carryover money, that there was this excess of funds that were in the court," Canterbury said. "The general thought was that we should bring down this carryover amount. And we did."

Lawmakers look likely to impeach Justice Allen Loughry, who also faces 23 counts in a separate, federal criminal case.

The House committee also heard evidence about the $3.7 million renovation of the court offices in the State Capitol. Canterbury said in some cases, they had to replace the original, paper-covered wiring. He said one office was picked to go first because, as he put it, "You could smell the wires burning in the walls."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV