Justice Robin Jean Davis, seated, is honored Jan. 30 during a ceremony to honor her work as chief justice in 2006 and 2007. At right is Court Administrator Steve Canterbury. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Gentner, Gentner Photo LLC)

CHARLESTON -– Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis was honored Wednesday for her work on behalf of abused and neglected children during a surprise ceremony in the Supreme Court Chamber.

Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Martha Yeager Walker and Nicholas Circuit Judge Gary L. Johnson spoke.

Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury presented Davis with a framed, enlarged copy of her own thumb print, symbolizing how he said, "Justice Davis has put her beautiful thumb print on the justice system."

Rocco Fucillo, the DHHR's Deputy Secretary and General Counsel, and Jason Najmulski, Commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families, also attended.

Walker said that during Davis' two most recent years as Chief Justice in 2006 and 2007 she was very accessible to the DHHR. If there was ever a problem, Davis was eager to solve it.

"Our hearts are from the same place," Walker said. "She gave her support to the Court Improvement Program, which helped expedite initiatives that strengthened the working relationship between the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Courts."

With Davis' support, the Court Improvement Program applied for and was awarded grants for both training initiatives and data systems. The data grant funded the development of computerized case plan that the DHHR and courts will both use to move children's cases through the system more quickly.

"As a result of the training grant we are in the midst of a research project with West Virginia University to study our current multi-disciplinary team process and improve the way it functions, thus improving outcomes for children who enter the foster care system," Walker said.

Davis also directed the development of court rules governing child abuse and neglect cases and specifying how the cases should be handled in circuit courts and family courts, all of which should speed cases toward resolution so children can have permanent placements sooner.

The cooperation between the Supreme Court and the DHHR is unprecedented in West Virginia and unusual compared to other states, said Johnson, who is Chairman of the West Virginia Court Improvement Program Board.

"Not one time did I ever call and ask her for something did she ever turn me down," Johnson said of Justice Davis.

Because of her efforts, "Children and families in West Virginia are better off," Johnson said.

Benjamin said it has truly been a pleasure serving with Davis on the Supreme Court.

"You have made a wonderful mark on this court and on this state," he told her. "As a justice coming in, there is a learning curve. Justice Davis was always there, teaching, helping. You epitomize what it means to be a justice, the temperance, the thought, the civility, and most of all the modesty.

"It's an honor now to call you not just a friend, but a colleague."

Canterbury said the changes the Court has made over the last two years in abuse and neglect case management may seem arcane, but they have a "very human meaning.

"Kids are safer now, and eighteen to twenty years from now those adults will be better off and contributing to society," Canterbury said.

Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard has asked Davis to continue her work on child abuse and neglect issues, and she has agreed.

Davis said the ceremony was truly a surprise and addressed the two-dozen Supreme Court employees in attendance.

"I thank each and every one of you for your efforts on behalf of our Court, which is a stellar Court," she said.

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