Fuller says firm did nothing wrong

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 22, 2015

CHARLESTON – The attorney at the center of the LearJet saga that involves a state Supreme Court justice and her lawyer husband says he and his firm have done nothing wrong.

Michael Fuller, an attorney with the Mississippi-based McHugh Fuller Law Group, spoke with The West Virginia Record after a hearing Wednesday in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Last month, ABC News did an investigation into McHugh Fuller and a jet it purchased from The Segal Law Firm, which is owned and operated by Scott Segal, the husband of state Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis.

The report was titled “Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court’,” and revealed that Segal sold the plane to Fuller for just over $1 million and that Fuller then helped raise thousands of dollars for Davis’ 2012 re-election campaign.

“Do we donate money? Yes, we do,” Fuller said Wednesday after a hearing in the Kanawha County Judicial Annex. “Our firm has been working here since 2006, so we have an interest in the state.”

As for the purchase of the airplane, Fuller reiterated what he had said in the ABC report. His firm bought the plane from a broker at a fair market value and didn’t know it was owned by Segal until the sale nearly was final.

According to the ABC report, Fuller encouraged attorneys, family and friends to make donations to West Virginia candidates in the 2012 election.

Davis received $27,500; Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin received $15,000; the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee received $20,000; and Letitia Chafin received $18,100, totaling $80,600 for that year.

In previous years, McHugh Fuller employees, family and others gave a total of $3,000 in 2008; $8,000 in 2010; and $9,000 in 2011.

All this occurred while McHugh Fuller had a nursing home abuse case pending before the state Supreme Court.

In June, Davis authored the majority opinion, upholding a jury verdict in favor of Fuller’s client, Tom Douglas. The ruling did, however, cut the punitive damages award from $80 million to nearly $32 million.

“What you have to remember is that the state Supreme Court ruling cut my client’s verdict by 60 percent,” Fuller said Wednesday. “What people don’t seem to remember is that a jury made the original decision to award the damages. No one seems to have a question about that. That jury said the torture that woman went through for three weeks is worth X dollars.

“If you ask me, the bigger problem here still is the conduct of the nursing home company.

“Was it a big award? Yes. But HCR ManorCare was bringing in about $4 billion and had about $8 billion in assets. And remember, this wasn’t the first time this nursing home company had been found liable in a patient’s death.

“If a verdict like this clears out companies that are exploiting, killing and improperly taking care of our elderly and sick residents, all the better if you ask me.

“It makes no sense to me to enable large corporations to do things like this. They need to know that when they screw up, it’s going to cost them.”

Earlier this month, an attorney wrote a letter to the state Supreme Court saying he believes Davis should recuse herself from another upcoming nursing home appeal because of situation.

On Jan. 9, state Supreme Court Clerk Rory Perry wrote a letter to inform counsel in an appeal regarding an AMFC LLC nursing home case about the sale of the plane.

In Perry’s letter, he states that the sale took place several years ago and that Davis had no involvement in the transaction, financial or otherwise, and that she is of the opinion that there is no basis for her disqualification in the matter.

The letter states that out of an abundance of caution and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Davis requested that counsel inform the clerk of the court in writing, no later than Jan. 13 at noon whether they had objections to her participation.

“If there is an objection, the objecting party must file a motion for disqualification under Rule 33 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure for consideration by Justice Davis,” the letter states.

On Jan. 12, Ryan A. Brown of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC, filed his letter, stating that he believe Davis should recuse herself. Brown represents the nursing home company.

“After careful consideration of the disclosure, petitioners do believe there is a basis for disqualification and will file a motion pursuant to Rule 33 within [30] days of receipt of your letter,” the letter states.

Fuller also responded to the letter on Jan. 12, stating he does not believe Davis should recuse herself.

“The airplane that is the subject of Justice Davis’ disclosure was purchased over three (3) years ago from Mr. Scott Segal’s law firm through the use of a broker; thus, there was never any direct contact with Mr. Segal, and Justice Davis was not involved in the purchase in any fashion,” Fuller’s letter states.

Fuller states that because he believes there is no basis for Davis’ disqualification, counsel has no objection to Davis participating in the appeal.

AMFC runs nursing homes in West Virginia. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the nursing homes over the years for alleged negligence and abuse of residences of the nursing homes.

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