By Brad McElhinny MetroNews
A court judgment proposes to garnish the wages Jim Justice earns as governor to resolve a big business debt, and the state Auditor’s Office says it is prepared to comply just the way it would for any similar court order affecting a state employee.
“When we receive a wage garnishment order issued by a court, it is processed as directed by applicable statutes, rules and regulations,” stated Kallie Cart, spokeswoman for the Auditor’s Office in response to a MetroNews question about how the matter would be handled.
“This is done without regard to whom the order is directed, whether a state official or employee, including the Governor.”
The wage garnishment order was filed this month in circuit court in Randolph County on behalf of Citizens Bank of West Virginia. The garnishment was first reported by the West Virginia Record.
The garnishment is a response to a judgement from last October for $850,000 in debt by Bluestone Resources, the coal business owned by Justice’s family. The total amount also includes $13,793 in interest plus a cost of $27 for the court filing.
The court order calls for withholding 20 percent of the governor’s wages after state and federal tax deductions or the amount of the governor’s post-withholding wages that for each week exceeds 50 times the minimum hourly wage.
Withholding would continue for a year unless the full amount is paid sooner than that.
West Virginia’s wage for governor is set at $150,000, although Justice has often said he donates his to charity. His most recent state ethics disclosure form specifies that he donated all of his 2022 earnings as governor to the state Department of Education’s Communities in Schools program.
Since becoming governor, Justice has declined to place most of his family’s business holdings into a blind trust, instead saying he has turned over their operation to his adult son and daughter.
Justice, a two-term Republican governor, is considering a high-profile run for U.S. Senate. As Politico noted last week, if Justice enters that race he would have to file personal financial disclosures that could lead to heightened scrutiny of his financial holdings.
Justice’s ethics form, which says he resides in Kanawha County and works at the Capitol, lists two pages of businesses, including the Bluestone operations.
The form includes a mark boxed attesting that Justice does not owe anyone more than $5,000, although there is a specific exception for “debts resulting from the ordinary conduct of your business, profession, or occupation.”
In this case, Citizens Bank contended that it loaned Bluestone $2,371,764 to buy six large pieces of machinery in April 2018. It made a second loan for $278,014 to purchase more equipment.
Justice had signed documents personally guaranteeing all obligations of Bluestone. The original complaint contended Bluestone defaulted on its obligations, accusing the defendants of breach of contract.
Earlier this month, Justice acknowledged steps to sell at least some of the Bluestone assets to resolve another, bigger debt.
The possibility of a sale was raised last year as Justice’s coal company, Bluestone, worked to resolve millions of dollars in debt to the international lender Credit Suisse. The Justice family has hired the global investment banking firm Perella Weinberg Partners to explore the sale.
“Bluestone is a great big footprint,” Justice said during a March 15 news briefing about a range of topics, describing the regional character of the company.
“What I think they’re doing is, they’re carving out some specific assets and trying to get the specific assets running in a really prudent way to be able to market those at a time when the market is really good, and if they can pull that off that lowers their debt load if not eliminates their debt load — and that just makes things better in their lives.”