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Loughry looks ahead to 12 years as WV's newest supreme court justice

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Allen Loughry sits in his new office with his son Justus and wife Kelly. Allen Loughry sits in his new office with his son Justus and wife Kelly.
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Meet the Loughrys.

There's Allen, West Virginia's newest state Supreme Court justice, his wife Kelly and their 6-year-old son Justus, who insists he's the real justice in the family.

For Allen, his family not only is the foundation of his personal life but his career as well.

This is why he wanted to focus on a family-first approach when running his campaign for a seat on the state's highest court.

"We ran a very positive, family-oriented campaign," he said. "I'm extremely proud of the campaign we ran. My hope is that other candidates in the future will consider running the same type of campaign."

"I wanted to run a campaign that my 6-year-old son would be proud of or my 75-year-old father would be proud of," he added.

In fact, his son starred in a few of his campaign commercials, starting a juxtaposition of the two justices. In one of the commercials titled "The Real Justice Loughry," Justus said his dad "wanted to be a justice too."

"It kind of started when he said he would run for justice," Kelly recalled. "He said, ‘Well I'm Justus!' It started more along those lines, and we did want to do it as a family. And this was a way of involving (Justus) because he is such an important part of our lives. He is the most important part of our lives."

There were a few bumps in the campaign road, however. Loughry was the only candidate hoping to participate in West Virginia's pilot public finance program.

Yet, there was a problem with the matching funds provision of that project. Loughry filed a petition with the court to force the State Election Commission to release public funds to his campaign. State Supreme Court justices ultimately ruled the provision unconstitutional because it placed a "substantial burden on privately funded candidates' free speech rights."

Justices did however rule Loughry could seek campaign contributions for his candidacy.

"I remained positive because of how important this election was," Loughry said. "I made it clear from the beginning of my campaign that I felt there was too much money in judicial elections. The Legislature stepped up and passed this program in order to address those concerns. And I felt that I had an obligation not only to the more than 700 people who made small donations to my campaign but also to all West Virginians who care about fair judicial elections." 

Loughry later scored what some described as a "surprise victory" Nov. 6 when he was elected to a 12-year term on the bench. Loughry took the reigns from retired West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh and his term started with the new year.  

Now, the Loughry family has two justices.

"He actually thinks he's the real justice but he's not. You know that, right?" Justus said, turning toward his dad. "I'm the real Justus."

Loughry said he has much he wants to accomplish during his 12-year term on the state's highest court.

"I take this job extremely seriously, and I just want to do a great job for the next 12 years," he said. "I told people in my campaign commercials, ‘Honor me with your vote and I will serve you with honor.' That's exactly what I plan to do."

First, Loughry says he wants to educate the public about the role of the judiciary.

"Something I have noticed again by traveling the state in this campaign, people know very little about this very important part of the third co-equal branch of government," he said. "And it affects people's lives. It affects virtually everything people do in our lives. We as a judicial body need to figure out better ways to reach out and let them know about this branch of government."

Loughry also mentioned changing the perception of the state's judiciary. He said he remains positive that the perception will change, but says it won't happen overnight.

"I explained throughout the entire campaign that some of the issues with the judiciary are issues that cross over some of the perceptions they have about judiciary are because of the perceptions they have about all three branches of government," he said. "I'm very excited about where the judiciary is today. … I believe we are moving in a very positive direction in West Virginia. I think this court has taken a tremendous number of steps to alleviate those concerns. One example of that is the creation of the business court." 

In his campaign, Loughry also supported non-partisan election of judges. Loughry said this is another problem facing the judiciary.

"Ultimately it's something the Legislature will have to do but you can have a voice on these issues," he said.  "I can tell you, it's what people want. I've traveled this state talking with people, and it's a message that stood with me everywhere. People want to feel like electing judges and not politicians."

Before becoming a state Supreme Court justice, Loughry says he was just an average Tucker County boy. Although he and his wife grew up several counties apart, one out-of-state event changed everything.

When he was in high school, Allen was chosen to participate in the presidential classroom in Washington,  D.C. Meanwhile, at Berkeley Springs High School, the then Kelly Swaim also was chosen.

They were the only two chosen from West Virginia.

Both were scheduled for the same time to meet Sen. Robert C. Byrd. However, the senator was running late. So the future husband and wife decided to make small talk while waiting outside his office.

"There were so many people — maybe 500," Kelly recalled. "And we were not in the same group. So other than that meeting, we wouldn't have met."

Pictures with the senator were taken and a signed copy was delivered to both students.  

Now, both pictures hang side-by-side in their Charleston house, reminding the Loughrys not only about their experience with the late senator but also the very moment they met.

 "Everyone asks, ‘Why do you have the same picture?'" Kelly said, laughing.

That wasn't the last they would hear from the West Virginia senator. In fact, Byrd ended up playing another important role in Allen's life.  He wrote the forward to Loughry's book, "Don't Buy Another Vote, I won't Pay for a Landslide,"  which details corruption in West Virginia politics.

"I wrote it years ago. I wanted to see things change positively in West Virginia. That's why I'm absolutely excited about the 12 years. I want to come in here and do a good job," he said.

That chance high school meeting wouldn't be the last time Kelly and Allen would hear of each other or talk. The two became friends, seeing each other when they could and exchanging Christmas cards and notes when far apart.

"From time to time, he would come to Berkeley County, and he would leave a note with my mom, who worked at the newspaper at the time. We would drop each other lines," Kelly said.

But college and careers took the two separate directions. Kelly went to the University of Tennessee where she studied zoology, while Allen studied journalism at West Virginia University. Kelly also ended up working for a while at an animal health company in Chicago.

Allen, meanwhile, ended up obtaining not one, but four law degrees.

"I have this continued joke. I told my friends I wanted to see how much debt I could get in," Loughry joked. "Each of those law degrees opened up a whole new level of learning."

He received a doctor of juridical science from the American University Washington College of Law, a master of laws in criminology and criminal justice from the University of London, a master of laws in law and government from American University and a juris doctor from Capital University School of Law. He also studied law in England at the University of Oxford, where he received the program's top political science award.

The stars later aligned, Allen said. Kelly wanted to move home and be closer to her parents.

 "I missed West Virginia and just wanted to come home," she said. "So I came home. That's when I reconnected with Allen."

From there, the two dated and then married. And Allen's law career was taking off.

Loughry has served in many positions including senior assistant attorney general in the West Virginia Attorney General's office, special prosecuting attorney to handle criminal cases throughout West Virginia.

It wasn't until 2003 that his career took him for the first time to the state's highest court. Here, Loughry began working as a lawyer for the court. 

He also began teaching political science at the University of Charleston in 2010.

Loughry says he hopes he can serve as a role model, showing that even an average boy from Tucker County can participate in the political process.  

"The problem is that average kids growing up in West Virginia don't believe they can participate in the political process," he said. "I teach a class at the University of Charleston and many of those students have already given up because they see how the process works and they believe they can't participate in that process. I want to prove to them that they do matter and they can have a positive influence in West Virginia's future."