CHARLESTON – Robin Jean Davis has retired from the West Virginia Supreme Court, while Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker say they won't step down.
Davis made her announcement Aug. 14 in the state Supreme Court chambers. She was the most senior member of the court, having served nearly 22 years. She said her retirement was effective Monday, Aug. 13, the same day the House of Delegates voted to impeach and censure her and the other remaining justices.
In her prepared remarks, Davis said partisan politics is at the heart of her decision to retire.
“I deliver this statement today in dismay, disbelief, and in sadness,” she said. “I feel profound grief for the state of West Virginia given the current state of affairs. What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed, our very society.
“For when a legislative body attempts to dismantle a separate branch of government, the immediate effects, as well as the precedent it sets for the future, can only be termed disastrous.”
In voting to impeach the entire Supreme Court, Davis said Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have acted irrationally and without due process of law.
“The majority party has established a preconception which they bring forth, without regard to the evidence, or the process by which that evidence should be considered,” Davis said. “The majority members have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court. They have erased the lines of separation between the branches of government.
“In fact, the majority party in the Legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences. The will of the people is being denied! I just cannot allow the finalizing of their plot to come to fruition.”
Aug. 14 was the deadline for an open seat on the Supreme Court to be put on the November ballot. That means two seats for the bench will go to the voters Nov. 8 – those for Davis and recently retired Menis Ketchum.
Later in the day, Workman issued a statement through the court.
"I was dismayed by the House of Delegates’ decision yesterday to pursue the mass impeachment of the entire West Virginia Supreme Court," she wrote. "I will miss my colleague and friend, Justice Robin Jean Davis, but respect the reasons she chose to retire.
"I am not resigning, either from the court or from my position as Chief Justice. There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do.
"I want the citizens of our state to know that the Court will move forward. The cases set for the fall term, which opens September 5, will be heard and decided as scheduled. I look forward to putting all the facts before the Senate in the next phase of this process."
Walker also released her own statement.
"I remain committed to my oath of office and to serving the citizens of this great state," Walker said. "My focus will be on earning their trust and confidence and restoring integrity to their Supreme Court.
"Even though I disagree with some of the decisions of the House of Delegates, I respect their important constitutional role in this process and I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions. I look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the state Senate."
Walker said she has been committed to transparency and accountability during her time on the court.
"I will continue that commitment as a justice and while before the state Senate," Walker said. "I agree that expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight. As an important part of our government’s checks and balances, I will work with the Legislature and support their oversight of the court’s budget."
Davis talked about her legacy.
“I have always put my faith in the people of West Virginia,” Davis said during her announcement. “The people of West Virginia have honored me in three separate elections by placing their confidence in me as a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. I have returned their faith by serving honorably for almost 22 years.
“I am proud of the opinions I have written as well my dissents. As a point of particular pride, cases on which I have sat, as a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice, which have been appealed to the United States Supreme Court, have always, every single time, been upheld by the United States Supreme Court.”
She said she wishes she and the other justices would have received the same fairness from the Legislature.
“But, there is no evidence that has been the case or that it will be the case,” Davis said. “We judges weigh evidence as part of our jobs. Unfortunately, the evidence clearly shows that the preconceived, result-driven mania, among the majority party members in the Legislature cannot result in a just and fair outcome.
“The citizens of West Virginia will therefore be afforded their Constitutional right to vote in November and elect the justice who will be my successor. I thank my fellow West Virginians for the extraordinary opportunity to have served you. I encourage each of you to watch this legislative process very carefully and to vote in November.”
Davis, 62, is a Boone County native. She received her bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan in 1978 and her master’s degree and law degree from West Virginia University in 1982. She and husband Scott Segal operated the law firm of Segal and Davis until she was elected to the Supreme Court in 1996. She was re-elected in 2000 and 2012, and she served as Chief Justice six times during her time on the court.
Gov. Jim Justice's office said it had received Davis's retirement letter.
“Today my general counsel will provide the necessary documentation to the Secretary of State’s office so that the special election process may begin immediately for this vacancy," Justice said in a statement. "The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will immediately begin the process of filling this vacancy with an appointee to serve as a justice until the people of West Virginia elect a new justice in a special election."
Justice said he sent Davis a letter thanking her for her service.
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) also thanked Davis for her time on the bench.
"We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Davis to step down from the West Virginia Supreme Court," Carmichael said. "Because of her decision to step down today, the governor will be able to give the people of West Virginia the ability to choose the person who will replace her.
"We thank Justice Davis for the years of service she gave to the State of West Virginia, and we wish her well in the future.”