Democrats on Tuesday sued West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican Senate candidate, for refusing to release his work schedule as governor in response to public records request seeking to show a continued pattern of absenteeism.
The move by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee follows months of back and forth with Justice’s office over whether disclosure of the records is required under West Virginia law. Such requests are a typical part of opposition research conducted by opposing campaigns and political parties.
In this case, Democrats think they are plowing fertile ground as Justice gears up for a possible 2024 matchup against Sen. Joe Manchin III (D) in a state that Republicans view as one of their best pickup opportunities.
In 2019, two years into Justice’s gubernatorial tenure, media stories portrayed him as largely uninterested in his duties after his office did release copies of his schedules. The Associated Press reported at the time that Justice almost never met with his Cabinet, was rarely at the Capitol and was missing for a critical point during a legislative session. Critics said that Justice, a coal mining billionaire, appeared more interested in tending to his private business interests.
The DSCC is seeking copies of Justice’s schedule from January 2017 to the present to show a continued pattern. The lawsuit was filed in a circuit court in West Virginia.
A Justice campaign spokesman accused Democrats of being in “panic mode” since Justice’s April 27 entrance into the race and trying to bolster his Republican primary opponent, five-term Rep. Alex Mooney (R).
“[T]he Democrats are panicking and will do everything they can to prop up Alex Mooney, whom they know they can easily beat in the General Election,” Justice campaign spokesman Roman Stauffer said in a statement.
The lawsuit argues that Justice’s office is not following the law in a bid to shield him from more negative attention.
“Jim Justice cannot hide his work schedule — or lack thereof — from West Virginians, and this is an area which is sure to receive further scrutiny in his nasty primary and in a court of law,” DSCC spokesperson David Bergstein said in a statement.
Before Justice’s entrance into the race, his work ethic was already drawing scrutiny, including in an editorial last month in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“Of course, work hasn’t always been top of mind for the two-term governor, who has remained immersed in his private business interests (often in court over unpaid fees, fines or taxes), continued coaching high school basketball and is only in the capital city a couple of days each week,” the publication wrote.
Besides coal mining, the Justice family business holdings include the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where he announced his candidacy last month.
Justice appeared onstage with Babydog, his English bulldog, who has joined him frequently during his political career, including at his 2022 State of the State address at the West Virginia Capitol.
Justice, 72, was first elected governor as a Democrat in 2016. He announced he was switching parties and becoming a Republican at a 2017 rally hosted by then-President Donald Trump in Huntington, W.Va.
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has often criticized President Biden on environmental and economic policies, has said he would announce by year’s end whether he would seek another term in the Senate.