CHARLESTON – A statewide legal reform group is calling on West Virginia judges, political candidates and parties to return more than $100,000 in contributions from a Mississippi-based law firm connected to a recent national news report.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says people connected to the McHugh Fuller Law Group are responsible for the money that was given to the campaigns of several West Virginia candidates in recent years, including Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, unsuccessful Supreme Court candidate Tish Chafin and others. WV CALA says the recipients of the donations should return the money "to help ensure West Virginians have a fair and impartial legal system."
“We strongly believe that West Virginia is not for sale and are calling on those individuals and organizations in West Virginia that benefitted from over $100,000 in political contributions from Michael Fuller and attorneys, associates and employees of his law firm, McHugh Fuller Law Group to return those contributions," WV CALA's Roman Stauffer said in a statement Monday. "Ethical questions remain unanswered surrounding the contributions to Justice Robin Davis, the Supreme Court decision, and the million-dollar Learjet transaction between Mr. Fuller and Justice Davis’ husband Scott Segal.
"These issues raise public concerns about fairness and impartiality in our legal system."
According to campaign finance filings and research perform by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, the following political campaigns and organizations have accepted political contributions from people with connections to the McHugh Fuller Law Group: Justice Robin Davis ($27,500), Governor Earl Ray Tomblin ($22,000), West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee ($20,000), Letitia Chafin for Supreme Court ($18,100), Speaker Richard Thompson for Governor ($5,000), Ron Walters for Congress ($4,600), Justice Thomas McHugh for Supreme Court ($3,000), Justice Margaret Workman for Supreme Court ($2,000), John Cummings for State Senate ($2,000), Justice Menis Ketchum for Supreme Court ($1,000).
“Public records reveal a bizarre interest in West Virginia politics in 2012," Stauffer said. "McHugh Fuller employees, family of those employees and others associated gave a total of $3,000 in 2008, $8,000 in 2010, $9,000 in 2011 and $80,600 in 2012. Returning these contributions will begin the process of restoring West Virginian’s faith that our legal system is truly a fair and impartial system.
"We continue to support an independent, outside investigation into this matter and encourage Justice Robin Davis to address the questions that remain unanswered."
Earlier this month, WV CALA said Davis should answer the follow questions.
The ABC report that aired Dec. 2 on ABC World News Tonight and Nightline was titled “Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court.’” It revealed Davis’ husband – Charleston attorney Scott Segal – sold a Learjet to attorney Michael Fuller for just over $1 million and that Fuller helped raise thousands of dollars for Davis’ 2012 re-election campaign.
The report, by the network’s chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, reveals that Fuller of the Mississippi-based McHugh Fuller Law Group purchased a Learjet from Segal and contributed and campaigned for contributions to Davis’s re-election in 2012 – as he was handling the nursing home abuse case headed for the state’s high court.
Earlier this year, Davis authored the majority opinion upholding a jury verdict for Fuller’s client, but cut the punitive damages award from $80 million to about $32 million. The original jury verdict was worth more than $90 million. Fuller’s firm received a payout worth more than $17 million, according to the ABC News report.
“Unfortunately, the ethical questions that surround this transaction between a judge’s spouse and a personal injury lawyer who then appeared before the judge continue to go unanswered and raise concerns about our legal system,” Stauffer said. “We strongly believe there should be an outside, independent investigation into this transaction and the relationships among Justice Davis, her husband, and the personal injury lawyer.”
In its press release, WV CALA said the following questions still aren’t answered:
* Did Davis or her husband have a pre-existing personal or business relationship with the plaintiffs’ attorney who purchased the private jet? Have they or their law firms previously worked together on any cases or litigation?
* Why did Davis not disclose the airplane transaction between her husband and the plaintiffs’ attorney who appeared before her?
* Did Davis ever fly on the airplane that was allegedly owned by her husband’s law firm? If so, were those flights reported on Davis’ financial disclosure filings at the State Ethics Commission?
* When did Davis learn that her husband had sold the private jet to the plaintiffs’ attorney who would have a major case before the Supreme Court of Appeals?
* Why would out-of-state residents, with close ties to a personal injury lawyer with a major case before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, be so interested in the re-election of Davis that they contributed more than $35,000 to her campaign? Also, even if Davis indicates she was not told of these contributions, aren’t they publicly available for anyone to see?
“These are questions that West Virginians want and deserve to have answered,” Stauffer said. “Our organization’s members are committed to ensuring that all West Virginians have access to a fair and impartial judicial system.”