CHARLESTON – A new report links at least six possible straw donations made to state Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis’ 2012 re-election campaign to a Mississippi attorney who had a case pending before the court.
A source told The Daily Caller News Foundation that it believes six $1,000 donations to Davis’ campaign were made by Steve Edwards using funds from S&O Greenworks, a lawn care and pest control business he owns in Plant City, Fla. It also says Edwards made the contributions – under different names, not including his own – for Michael Fuller, a partner at McHugh Fuller Law Group in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Fuller’s firm represented a family in a 2011 Kanawha County lawsuit filed against HCR Manor Care. The family was awarded $91.5 million, but that verdict was appealed to the state Supreme Court. The justices awarded $17 million to the family.
But months later, that case was back in the spotlight when an ABC News report detailed how Fuller purchased a Learjet from Segal Law Firm – which is operated by Charleston attorney Scott Segal, Davis’ husband – for just more than $1 million. Campaign finance records show Fuller also helped raise thousands of dollars for Davis’ 2012 re-election campaign.
The Daily Caller source said Fuller and Edwards “have a longstanding personal relationship.” The story says contribution records reviewed by TheDCNF show that six people from Plant City contributed to Davis’s 2012 campaign. All six donations were made on Jan. 12, 2012, in the amount of $1,000, the maximum allowed by West Virginia law.
A straw donation is the term used to describe when individuals use another’s money to make political contributions in their own name or in the names of others. Straw donations are illegal.
“None of these individuals has an extensive history of political activism,” the story says. “It is unclear what connection, if any, the Plant City donors have to West Virginia judicial politics.
“The only connection the donors have to each other is their relationship with Steve Edwards, president of a Plant City landscaping company called S&O Greenworks. Though no contributions were made in Edwards’ name, several came from individuals close to him and his company.”
Fuller represented S&O Greenworks in the class-action Steve Edwards v. Motorola, Inc. in 2007.
The Daily Caller says Edwards’ wife Jennifer appears to have made two contributions to Davis’ re-election effort.
“One contribution was made in her married name, and another was made in the name Jennifer Schlichenmayer, Edwards’s maiden name,” the story says. “Two other S&O Greenworks employees also made donations. Additional contributions came from two individuals who live on Steve Edwards’ street.”
One of those listed on the campaign reports seemed unaware of the events.
“One of these individuals told TheDCNF that they did not make a donation to the Davis campaign, and that any donation made in their name was submitted without their knowledge or permission,” the story says. “The source asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the donations.
“The individual claims that the first time they learned a donation to Davis was made in their name was in TheDCNF’s Aug. 4 (2016) report. The source said that they are not politically active and had never heard of Robin Jean Davis before reading TheDCNF’s report.
“’No,’ the source replied when asked if they donated to the Davis campaign. ‘I have never been into politics. I don’t know anyone like (Justice Davis.)’”
McHugh, other lawyers and his Mississippi law firm and their relatives also made $1,000 contributions to Davis’ campaign on Jan. 12, 2012.
Fuller’s father, who lives in Plant City, was among the 18 people with ties to Fuller who made a $1,000 donation that day.
The Daily Caller’s source said Edwards once said he would use company funds to do a favor for Fuller.
“I have to cut a couple of checks out of our account for something that (Fuller’s) doing, but he’s going to reimburse us,” the source told The Daily Caller, quoting Edwards. “I remember thinking ‘This guy’s a multi-millionaire, why does he need to borrow money from us?'”
The source also claimed other contributions from S&O employees likely were made at Edwards’ request or by Edwards himself.
In August, The Daily Caller reported the six contributions from Plant City were made by Jennifer (Schlichenmayer) Edwards, S&O employees Oscar Villanueva and Michelle Edwards as well as Kylen Suggs and Tammy Miller, both of whom are neighbors of Edwards in Brandon, Fla.
Davis had no comment when asked about The Daily Caller story. Neither Fuller nor Edwards have yet responded to request for comment.
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse wants state officials to look into the matter.
“This new report raises concerns about contributions made to Justice Davis’ re-election campaign," Roman Stauffer said in a statement. "We encourage Secretary of State Mac Warner to examine the details of these new claims to determine if a violation of West Virginia campaign finance law occurred. If his investigation determines a violation occurred we hope he will pursue the violators to the fullest extent of the law.
“This only reinforces our belief that Justice Davis should recuse herself from cases involving the out-of-state personal injury lawyer that purchased the airplane from her husband and also bundled these questionable contributions examined in the Daily Caller News Foundation report."