West Virginia Record

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Chief Justice ready to get 'back to school'

By Chris Dickerson | Sep 7, 2007


West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals chambers at the state Capitol.

CHARLESTON – For Robin Jean Davis, it's like starting a new school year.

That's how Davis, chief justice of the state Supreme Court of Appeals, described the feeling she gets about the fall term, which begins Sept. 11.

"We've just come off of a couple of months vacation," Davis said. "Now, when I say vacation, we worked. We just didn't sit on the bench.

"We were able to hike, bike, mow lawns, whatever. It's like coming back to school."

Like a child starting a new school year, Davis said she and the other justices have those same feelings of excitement and anticipation about what the new year will bring.

"We have big cases every term, but our fall term is the shortest term," she said. "In terms of time to get opinions out, we have some really long days in the fall term.

I'm not complaining. It's just the reality of the situation."

After a busy first week in session, the justices head to Huntington on Sept. 18 for the now-annual visit to Marshall University. There, they talk to faculty, staff and students in addition to hearing cases.

"We just started that a few years ago," Davis said. "It's been an absolute delight. It has been well received by school officials and student body. We try to interact with as many students as we can when we're there. We have a question-and-answer session, and we hear real cases."

The Court has made annual trips to West Virginia University – home of the state's lone law school – for years. And besides the trip to Marshall, they have a few other road trips each year.

Davis also said the Justices soon could add another trip to their calendar. But it will be a very short one.

"I think at some point, we're going to have a discussion at the University of Charleston," she said, noting nothing was finalized.

Davis also hit on a few other topics.

* She dismissed reports labeling the Court more business friendly since Justice Brent Benjamin won his seat in 2004.

"To label this Court business friendly or labor friendly is pure poppycock," she said. "We take each case as it comes down the pike. This court is made up of five different people, and we approach cases in five different ways.

"Sometimes business wins, sometimes labor wins, sometimes the 'little people' win.

"Anybody can take whatever numbers and distort them however they want, but I think we have an extremely balanced, well-reasoned court. We have a very fair court.

"And I would challenge any person in this state to label me as business-friendly or plaintiff-friendly. If you look at my record, you'll see that every case has been won or lost on its merits."

* Likewise, she also scoffed at the notion that in recent years the Court has had fewer and fewer unanimous rulings.

"First, if you take a look at the petitions for appeal, we're accepting fewer," she said. "I think that's a good thing. The cases we are accepting are very difficult cases in terms of the legal issues presented. If the court is refusing to take cases, I think that means we're accepting the more difficult ones.

"The cases that come before us are very difficult legal issues. And in legal cases that have difficult legal issues -- issues of a constitutional magnitude -- I think it would be odd if the five of us always did agree. I find that refreshing.

"In many of the cases, the courts in the country are split. We have addressed some issues that all of the high courts in each state are split on. We have other states waiting to see what we're doing. I'm proud of that. It speaks volumes of what we're doing.

* Davis also said she doesn't think the fact that two seats – those of Spike Maynard and Larry Starcher – are up for election in 2008 will have an effect on decisions. Maynard is seeking re-election, while Starcher hasn't announced his plans.

"If I were up for re-election. I'd be out campaigning non-stop," she said. "But in terms of the day-to-day work of our court, that does not phase us. I say that with all due respect. And I also commend Justices Maynard and Starcher for not letting that become an issue."

Davis stressed how much she enjoys her job.

"I absolutely love my job," she said. "I never want to forget to thank the people of the state of West Virginia who put me in this position. I will continue to do what the people elected me to do, which is use my own judgment and the law to render opinions."

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West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals