CHARLESTON – State Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis has hosted eight dinners at her residences for judges and justices in her 20 years on the court.
The state Supreme Court paid nothing for six of the dinners, including one which was held at her and her attorney husband Scott Segal’s Jackson, Wyoming, home for state Supreme Court Chief Justices from across the nation during a conference. The state paid nearly $1,000 for shuttle service back and forth to one of the parties at Davis’ Charleston home in 2011.
But the state paid more than $11,000 for one party at Davis’ home in 2013, which was held in conjunction with the Fall 2013 Circuit Judge’s annual conference, which was held in Charleston. The information was gathered from a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The West Virginia Record with the court.
Receipts show the court paid $11,360.03 for the Oct. 8, 2013, dinner for circuit court judges and spouses. The breakdown include $5,250 to Meticulous Inc. for food; $1,083.11 to Buzz Products Inc. for food; $851.25 to Joe’s Fish Market for food; $21.54 to Kroger for food; $38.25 to Spring Hill Bakery for food; $1,673.38 to Party King for tents, tables and chair rentals; $1,535 to Food Among The Flowers for decorations; and $907.50 to Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority to shuttle the judges and other guests back and forth from lodging downtown to Davis’ home.
“Justice Davis paid for all drinks, alcohol, serving staff, bartender and clean-up for the 2013 dinner,” information included in the FOIA response states.
The $907.50 is what the state paid KRT for a similar June 14, 2011, event for which Davis paid everything else.
Three other current Supreme Court justices – Menis Ketchum, Allen Loughry and Margaret Workman – who were on the court at the time answered questions regarding the 2013 dinner via court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy. Justice Beth Walker was elected in 2016, so she wasn’t asked to respond.
All three said they didn’t know the court paid for the dinner, and all three said they didn’t know of other justices or court employees hosting similar dinners at their homes.
Current Court Administrator Gary Johnson said a dinner usually is held during such conferences, and he said they usually are held in a facility within the hotel where the conference is taking place. He used an example of when the event is in Charleston, the dinner “was usually held in the banquet room of the Embassy Suites.”
“There was a conference in Huntington where there was a banquet at Heritage Farms,” he said. Those dinners are paid for by the court.
Former Court Administrator Steve Canterbury, who was fired in early 2017, said he was at some of the dinners at Davis’ homes.
“While it is true that one of the dinners was paid for by the court, much of that money would have gone to pay for the dinners and expenses of the judges anyway,” he said. “The other six dinners at Davis’s houses saved the court thousands and thousands of dollars because the judge’s didn’t get expensed for their dinners on those evenings.”
According to the court’s FOIA response, the menu for the 2013 dinner included asparagus wrapped in prosciutto; artichoke tartlets; seared tuna on a sesame cracker; pork tenderloin with apricot chutney; au gratin potatoes; roasted red pepper, mushroom and artichoke pasta, roasted vegetables with balsamic glaze; leek, pancetta and mushroom panzanella; fresh green beans with potatoes; mixed green salad; cookies; pumpkin tartlets; and lemon bars.
“Justice Robin Jean Davis cordially invites you to join her for a Cocktail Buffet Tuesday, the eighth of October at 6 o’clock,” the invitation states, including her home address.
Davis hosted a dinner for state Supreme Court chief justices at her Jackson, Wyoming, home on July 25, 2016. The West Virginia Supreme Court paid nothing for that event as well, but a few court employees – Canterbury and administrative assistant Mary Greene – did handle RSVPs for that event.
According to an Aug. 16, 2016, letter from the National Center for State Courts, no NCSC or state dues were used “in any way to support the reception held by Justice Robin Davis” at her Wyoming home that took part in conjunction with the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators Annual Meeting.”
NCSC President Mary McQueen also wrote in that letter that no mention of the Davis reception was made in the conference program.
Supreme Court spending has been under scrutiny since November, when WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass first detailed other state Supreme Court expenditures. Since 2009, court offices have undergone extensive renovations. The original price tag was about $900,000 for the first round of renovations. But it since has grown to more than $3.7 million and include more areas of renovations.
When he was voted out as Chief Justice earlier this month, Loughry referred to a possible federal investigation into spending at the state Supreme Court.
“In 2016, I requested a federal investigation into certain practices and procedures within the Supreme Court,” Loughry said in his statement. “At the time, I was dismayed with those procedures and practices and felt that I had a legal and ethical obligation to contact federal authorities.
“In my opinion, the action taken by the court today is in response to my cooperation with federal authorities. I defer to the federal prosecutor’s office for more information.”
In his own statement, Mike Stuart, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said, “Regarding various media reports concerning the West Virginia Supreme Court, in accordance with Department of Justice Policy, the United States will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
When Loughry was voted out, Workman was voted in as Chief Justice through the end of 2018.
That change in leadership came just hours after state Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) introduced the resolution urging the House to “begin an investigation into potential impeachable offenses” by Loughry.
“Loughry oversaw the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on office renovations at a time when the state was in a budget crisis,” the resolution states. “Loughry asserted through media interviews that he had little if any involvement with the decisions related to the office renovations.
“Loughry’s own emails and hand-drawn images recently released by the media through a Freedom of Information Act request show that he was intimately involved with the design and had full knowledge of the expenses associated with the renovation of his office.”
Ojeda’s resolution also mentions some of the expenses for Loughry’s office, including $32,000 for a couch and the custom-made wood floor medallion featuring each county set out in a different type of wood and Loughry’s home county set out in blue granite.
Ojeda’s resolution, which was introduced Feb. 16 as Senate Resolution 44, was referred to the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 19. As of Feb. 20, no action had been taken on the matter.
The House of Delegates has the sole power of impeachment, according to the West Virginia Constitution. The state Senate would hear any impeachment proceeding. And a two-thirds Senate vote would be required for impeachment.