Judges should recuse themselves not only from cases in which they have a conflict of interest, but also from ones in which there may be even the appearance of impropriety. For most judges, having such a conflict or being wary of such an appearance is a rarity.
For West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis, however, it seems to be a regular occurrence. In fact, it might be easier for Justice Davis to recuse herself from cases in which she doesn't have a conflict of interest.
Whenever Davis makes an appearance, there's a good chance it will be an appearance of impropriety.
ABC's World News Tonight and Nightline highlighted one such appearance last December with a story headlined: “Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court.’”
The story focused on a multimillion-dollar judgment against a West Virginia nursing home, awarded to the McHugh Fuller firm and upheld last year by our state Supreme Court, with a majority opinion written by Davis. Firm principal Michael Fuller had purchased a million-dollar jet from Davis' husband just three years prior to his multimillion-dollar victory.
Having failed to recuse herself, Davis claimed ignorance of the million-dollar jet sale when it later came to light – and ignorance, as well, of the fact that Fuller and colleagues had contributed more than $35,000 to her 2012 re-election campaign.
An ethics complaint filed against her in the matter was unanimously dismissed by the Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC). JIC member Robert Fitzsimmons and other attorneys at his Wheeling law firm have contributed more than $10,000 to Davis’ reelection campaigns.
Justice Davis recently filed a dissenting opinion in a wrongful death case that a woman sought to have tried in Marshall County, rather than in Berkeley where it properly belonged. Did the fact that Robert Fitzsimmons represents the woman in question have any bearing on her decision?
No, of course not. How could we even think such a thing?