We observed in an editorial last month, “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.”
We noted that State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis seems oblivious to such concerns and that her cavalier approach has attracted national attention, securing her the starring role last year on ABC's World News Tonight and Nightline in a story headlined: “Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court.’”
That story focused on Davis' majority opinion in a multimillion-dollar judgment against a West Virginia nursing home, awarded to an attorney who'd recently purchased a million-dollar jet from Davis' husband – and recently contributed thousands of dollars to Davis' reelection campaign.
If she hasn't figured it out yet, Davis may eventually discover (the hard way) that it's in the best interest of judges to recuse themselves when warranted. It's essential for maintaining public trust in their judgment, for keeping others from questioning their motives in every decision, and for being respected and taken seriously.
In just the last few weeks, Davis has dissented three times from the court's majority decisions, and we can't help but wonder why. She made some valid points in each dissent, but there was a hostile and condescending tone to each, which makes us think there might be more to her demurrals than mere disagreement.
One of those cases involved a nursing home. The other two involved the state Department of Health and Human Resources, which regulates nursing homes, among other things. In one dissent, she said her fellow justices had performed not “a scintilla of the legal analysis that is required” and charged them with an “arrogant and complete disregard of federal law.”
Surely the fact that her attorney husband and his attorney friends make a living suing nursing homes had nothing to do with her dissents.