CHARLESTON – West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis has declined to recuse herself from hearing arguments in a case involving a law firm that bought a Learjet from her husband’s firm for more than $1 million.
And in her 29-page response laying out her reasons for not stepping aside, Davis said she has asked the state Supreme Court clerk to notify the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate a “misrepresentation” the defense attorney made in his motion for disqualification.
On Feb. 5, Davis submitted her response to the motion to disqualify from AMFM LLC v. Peggy Davis, an appeal to be heard by the state Supreme Court that includes attorney Michael Fuller from the McHugh Fuller Law Group of Hattiesburg, Miss.
That is the firm that bought a Learjet from Scott Segal’s Segal Law Firm in 2011. Attorney Mark A. Robinson, who represents AMFM in the case, had filed the motion saying Justice Davis should recuse herself.
Davis declined to do so.
“The first objection I have with the petitioners’ motion is that it sets out blatantly misleading implications that I have an interest in this case because of a personal relationship with one of plaintiffs’ counsel, Michael J. Fuller Jr.,” she writes, citing three quotes from Robinson’s motion. “Anyone reading … would expect to find examples in the motion illustrating my personal relationship with Mr. Fuller.
“There is not one mention in the motion of any actual personal business, financial or social relationship that I have or have had with Mr. Fuller. This is because none exists. In spite of the lack of any evidence of such a personal relationship, the petitioners’ motion disingenuously paints a grossly misleading picture.”
Davis also says Robinson’s motion to disqualify is “a classic example of appellate judge shopping.”
She cites Robinson’s mention of a 2012 lawsuit Segal filed in McDowell County against AMFM.
“In that case, the defendants attempted to enforce an arbitration agreement nearly identical to the one at issue in the instant (AMFM v. Davis) matter,” Robinson wrote. “In rebuttal, Mr. Segal advanced many of the same arguments as Attorney Fuller has advanced as to why the nursing home arbitration agreement should not be enforced.”
Davis said she had the state Supreme Court Clerk look into this case.
“Anyone reading the above allegation would reasonably believe that my husband has a case now pending against two of the petitioners in this case,” Davis writes. “The clerk informed me that the Jones case was settled and dismissed by an order entered on August 6, 2013.
“In other words, the petitioners have intentionally and negligently misrepresented facts about my husband in an effort to support their recusal motion.”
That is where Davis includes a footnote saying she has asked the Supreme Court Clerk to submit a certified copy of her response to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for an investigation into the misrepresentation of the Jones case.
“I wish to make it clear that, even if the Jones case was still pending, it would not have provided grounds for my recusal from this case for the reasons previously discussed.
“I will not allow myself to be intimidated by misleading and scandalous accusations against me, be it in the form of judge shopping recusal motions or media mania. In nineteen years of service on this Court, I have never hesitated to recuse myself from a case when I felt disqualification was necessary.”
In response, a spokeswoman for Robinson's law firm – Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso – said the firm stands behind its attorneys and the motion.
“At the invitation of Justice Davis, Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso attorneys filed on behalf of their clients a Motion for Disqualification in a matter pending in the Supreme Court of Appeals," said Shannon Louk, Director of Communications and Business Development for the firm. "The motion was filed pursuant to the Rules of Appellate Procedure. All statements and assertions in the motion were accurate and made in good faith.
"There were no misrepresentations. The firm strongly believes the actions of its lawyers were appropriate.”
In a Feb. 9 press release, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse again said it thinks Davis should recuse herself from cases involving the McHugh Fuller Law Group.
“When so much money has exchanged hands with a family member, as we see with the Learjet deal, we believe Justice Davis should recuse herself from all cases involving this personal injury lawyer before our high court so all litigants have a fair and impartial day in court,” WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. “Our recent statewide public opinion survey shows that eight in ten (82 percent) West Virginians believe Justice Davis should have disclosed her connections to this lawyer.
“This chain of events has already embarrassed our state’s legal system on national television. Why not take steps to ensure that even the appearance of impartiality and impropriety is removed?
“Situations like this have led the American Tort Reform Foundation to label our state a ‘Judicial Hellhole’ for more than a decade, and raise obvious questions about the impartiality and fairness of our state’s legal system.”
Last month, Fuller told The West Virginia Record he did nothing wrong regarding the purchase of the plane nor raising funds for Davis' 2012 successful re-election campaign.
“Do we donate money? Yes, we do,” Fuller. “Our firm has been working here since 2006, so we have an interest in the state.”
In December, ABC News did an investigation into McHugh Fuller and the jet it purchased from The Segal Law Firm. 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.