CHARLESTON – Former gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney on Thursday said he has filed a Judicial Investigation Commission complaint regarding Justice Robin Jean Davis, her husband and a personal injury lawyer who purchased a jet from them.
“West Virginia cannot attract economic investment and growth if its judiciary is perceived as not being above reproach," Bill Maloney said in a press release Thursday. "The proper authorities must examine the appearance of a relationship between Justice Davis, her husband and personal injury lawyer Michael Fuller."
Maloney said statements made by Davis and husband Scott Segal indicate to him that Davis was aware of Fuller’s million dollar plus transfer of funds to her husband before he took part in oral arguments in a nursing home 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. "Fuller benefited from her decision, a ‘tortured’ one according to the dissent, by collecting $17 million in fees from the plaintiff.”
Maloney also noted that a public opinion poll found that 82 percent of respondents believe Davis should have disclosed the deal.
"That’s the standard: would a reasonable person question the impartiality of judge if the facts are made known?" Maloney said. "The relationship between personal injury lawyers and the West Virginia judiciary has moved from cozy to unethical.
"The taxpayers have an expectation of fairness and impartiality from our judges. Without it, we’re lost. The West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct are crystal clear and the facts of the matter are essentially undisputed."
Later Thursday, Maloney said he had considered filing the complaint since December when the story broke.
"We've just got this attitude with some people in power in this state that you're above the law, and she's the epitome of it," he said. "And, it's not right. But everybody seems to be afraid of her. Well, I'm not afraid to take her on.
Since December when ABC did that report, I've watched the way she operates, and it drives me nuts. But, it's not just her. It's not a Democrat thing. There are people in the Republican Party who do this stuff as well."
On Monday, Segal said he couldn't comment on Maloney's complaint.
"Those matters are confidential, so I would be uncomfortable other than to say I will cooperate in any way whatsoever," Segal said.
The Douglas case was ruled upon last year by the state Supreme Court and resulted in an approximate $40 million verdict against HCR Manorcare. Davis was Chief Justice at the time and wrote the majority opinion in the case.
The Douglas case has been under scrutiny since December when ABC News reported that plaintiff’s counsel in the case, particularly Michael Fuller of the McHugh Fuller Law Group from Hattiesburg, Miss., had purchased a Learjet from the Charleston-based Segal Law Firm, owned by Davis’ husband Scott 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.
In June, Davis authored the majority opinion in the Douglas case, 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.
Earlier this year when refusing to recuse herself from another case involving Fuller's firm, Davis noted that the contributions by Fuller and his associates equal less than one half of 1 percent of the total contributions to her 2012 campaign.
As for the sale of the plane, Davis wrote that she didn’t know the purchase price of the 2011 transaction until Dec. 2 when media coverage of the issue began.
She also criticized the media coverage of the matter.
“The media, in a vicious politically-driven effort to destroy my nineteen years of judicial integrity, then launched a national campaign to make it appear that I was devoid of all integrity because I did not inform the litigants in Manor Care that my husband had sold an airplane several years earlier to Mr. Fuller,” she wrote. “Solely as a result of the media’s national fixation with casting me in a negative light, the petitioners now argue that I have an appearance of partiality in any case in which Mr. Fuller is an attorney.”
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.