Court employees testify at West Virginia impeachment inquiry

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court's deputy security director testified Thursday he helped a justice now facing a federal criminal indictment move a couch and antique desk out of his home at the justice's request.

Jess Gundy testified Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating whether to recommend impeachment proceedings for Justice Allen Loughry.

Loughry was suspended last month over allegations he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain. He also is charged in a 23-count federal criminal indictment with lying to federal investigators, witness tampering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice. The federal charges carry a maximum penalty of 405 years and $5.75 million in fines if he is convicted.

If the House committee recommends impeachment, the House of Delegates would then decide whether a trial would be held before the state Senate.

Gundy testified Loughry asked him to move the couch and desk to a court warehouse last fall because of media scrutiny about the items being at his home.

"He had been under fire in the press a lot for that," Gundy said.

Gundy said moving furniture was not part of his duties and he called the request unusual.

"He did not want me telling a lot of people about moving these items," Gundy said. "I think he was relieved it was all out of his house."

A complaint by the state Judicial Investigation Commission said Loughry violated codes of conduct when he had the expensive desk moved from his law clerk's office at the Capitol to his home without permission or knowledge of the other justices in 2012. He returned the desk last November. It also said he moved a leather couch from his office to his home and had extra court computers installed in his home for personal use by himself, his wife and son.

The complaint also alleged Loughry used court employees to further his personal objectives. It said the court issued a news release quoting Loughry as saying it was a long-standing practice for justices to establish a home office with court-provided equipment. In fact, the court has no written policy concerning a home office.

"He was pretty adamant that there was such a policy," court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy told the committee Thursday. "At the time I sent the statement out I didn't know it wasn't true."

Loughry also is accused of improperly using a state vehicle for personal reasons. Loughry signed for a car for a total of 212 days from 2013 to 2015 but failed to list a destination for 148 days, including trips to visit family and for signings of his 2006 book chronicling West Virginia political corruption.

Gundy, the deputy security director, testified that Loughry frequently used a state vehicle on weekends and holidays. Gundy said Loughry told him "the other justices back in chambers didn't have a need to know where he was going."

Loughry often brought back the cars with empty gas tanks, court messenger Paul Mendez testified.

"Pretty much the plan was if you take the vehicles out, you fill them up when you come back," Mendez said. "But he never did."

On Friday the committee plans to tour the Supreme Court's offices, which have undergone more than $3.7 million in renovations. Earlier this year lawmakers approved placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would bring the state courts' budget partly under legislative control.

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