W.Va.'s newest supreme court justice adjusts to job
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although newcomer West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry has been in office for nearly a year, he says it seems like much longer.
"It's an enormous responsibility, but I feel like I've been here 15-20 years," Loughry said. "You think I would have been nervous, but I've been comfortable in this job and I really enjoy it."
Loughry has two favorite places in the building. The first, of course, is the courtroom. The second?
"I love my office," Loughry said of his workspace, where a framed cover of his book along with pictures of his wife, Kelly, and son Justus line the bright yellow walls. "It's my home away from home."
Before becoming a justice, the Tucker County native served at the state Supreme Court as a law clerk. He also wrote a book detailing corruption in the Mountain State, titled "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide."
His 12-year term at the state's highest court started at the beginning of this year.
"There have been no real surprises," Loughry said. "I worked at the court for the last 10 years, and it's been a seamless transition."
And it's been quite a busy year for all state Supreme Court justices. The most recent term ended the day before Thanksgiving, and more than 1,300 decisions have been issued so far this year. Not all of the decisions have been released yet, however.
The majority of those decisions are memorandum decisions or abbreviated decisions on the merits, and some are signed opinions that create new points of law.
"The fact that we've had 1,300 written decisions shows that we've been working very hard," Loughry said. "Each decision is important to someone. Some are important to thousands while others are important to two or three people. What I've tried to focus on is looking at every case as a separate issue and issue good, solid legal opinions."
Loughry previously told the Charleston Daily Mail this last term was the busier of the court's two terms, mostly because it's the shortest term.
"But some of that will be cyclical, meaning during some terms you're going to have more difficult cases than other terms, and that's something that's outside of your control," he previously said. "I think the court has dealt with some pretty difficult cases during the past year, and the quality of the work continues to improve."
And it doesn't hurt when justices get along, which Loughry says they do. However, he says that doesn't mean they agree on everything.
"It's important people work well together whenever we have disagreements," he said. "There are five elected officials, and we're not going to agree on everything. It makes life easier when you get along and like each other."
Many of the justices pick special themes to focus on, typically when they serve as chief justice, which is a rotating position.
For example, Benjamin has worked with drug court and Access to Justice; Davis has worked on truancy, children's issues and elder law and Workman has worked with the Juvenile Justice Commission.
Although not slated to be chief justice just yet, Loughry has worked with the court's Robes to Schools program, reading and giving information to students. Loughry says he wants to carry out this focus in the future by educating the younger population.
"Part of the reason is a lot don't know about the judicial branch," he said. "It's a third and coequal branch of government. It sounds like, 'Of course you know about that,' but one of the first things I found out is how little people know about that and it affects everything you do in life."
Loughry says he's enjoyed "every single minute" of his job. So, what's his favorite part?
"I know it sounds corny, but I love everything about it," he said. "I was going through the mail, and there was this note card from the Girl Scouts. Justice Workman and I had spoken with the local Girl Scouts, and we were just amazed with them. I just enjoy every bit of that. I think it's extremely important to reach younger people."
Another thing he likes about his job is he still has time to spend with his family.
"He's such a wonderful little fellow," Loughry said of his 7-year-old son, Justus. "He has such a vocabulary. The other day he was putting together a puzzle, and he said he was 'trying to find the corresponding piece to this.' He also said the other day, 'It was presumptuous to ask me that question.'"
Although Justus proclaimed he was the real Justus in the family in Loughry's campaign ad, Justus also looks up to his dad's job.
"He enjoys the fact that I have this job," Loughry said. "Sometimes, Kelly and Justus will come to my office and they will always go into the courtroom so that he can, as he says, 'present a case.'"
Loughry said he hopes he can make his son proud throughout his career.
"There's one year behind us and 11 more to go," Loughry said. "As I have said many times, I plan on spending my time in office to make my now 7-year-old son and my 70-year-old father proud. It's just been a good year. I take this job very seriously and truly love my job."