CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission has dismissed a complaint filed against state Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Robin Davis.
According to a news release issued by West Virginia’s high court Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously May 22 to dismiss the complaint against Davis.
The complaint was filed by former gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney in April. Maloney filed the complaint regarding the justice, her husband and a personal injury lawyer who purchased a jet from them.
The JIC’s investigation report was handed over to Maloney and Davis June 17; Davis authorized its release Tuesday.
The commission found that “there is no evidence to support a finding of probable cause that Respondent violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
In April, Maloney said authorities needed to examine the “appearance of a relationship” between Davis, husband Scott Segal and lawyer Michael Fuller.
“West Virginia cannot attract economic investment and growth if its judiciary is perceived as not being above reproach,” Maloney said at the time.
Speaking Tuesday about the dismissal, Maloney said the state needs to examine such commissions.
"One thing that definitely needs to change in West Virginia is getting rid of all self-appointed judicial investigation, ethics commissions, etc. that lack teeth," he said. "It's really a joke to think they will properly police the very people responsible for their appointment."
In February, attorneys for skilled nursing chain Manor Care asked for Davis to be disqualified from hearing a petition for writ of prohibition in an ongoing case against a former Manor Care-affiliated nursing home filed on behalf of the estate of Sharon Hanna, following a news report linking the justice to the plaintiff’s counsel.
In December, ABC News reported that plaintiff’s counsel in another nursing home matter, Fuller, of the McHugh Fuller Law Group from Hattiesburg, Miss., had purchased a Learjet from the Charleston-based Segal Law Firm, owned by Segal, for more than $1 million in 2011.
The ABC News story also reported that Fuller and other attorneys at the firm had been responsible for raising more than $35,000 for Davis’ 2012 successful re-election campaign.
Last year, Davis authored the majority opinion in the Douglas case, upholding a jury verdict in favor of Fuller’s client, Tom Douglas, who alleged severe neglect led to the death of his 87-year-old mother, Dorothy. The ruling did, however, cut the punitive damages award from $80 million to nearly $32 million.
Davis has refused to recuse herself from the Hanna case.
Maloney said in April that statements made by Davis and Segal indicated to him that Davis was aware of Fuller’s million dollar-plus transfer of funds to her husband before the oral arguments in the Douglas case began.
“Rather than disclose it to her colleagues on the court, the defense counsel or the public, she instead personally presided over oral arguments and authored the majority’s decision,” Maloney said in filing his complaint.
“Fuller benefited from her decision, a ‘tortured’ one according to the dissent, by collecting $17 million in fees from the plaintiff.”
He said he had considered filing the complaint since December when the story broke.
Maloney ran for governor in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he ran to fill the unexpired term of Joe Manchin, who vacated the seat to replace U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd after Byrd’s death. He won the Republican primary, but lost to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in the fall.
In 2012, the Morgantown businessman, who co-founded a drilling company instrumental in the 2010 rescue of trapped Chilean miners, won the Republican primary again but lost to Tomblin in the general election.
Davis has maintained she didn’t know the purchase price of the 2011 transaction until December when media coverage of the issue began. She has been critical of the coverage since.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.