Investigation: Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia?

Undisclosed private airplane deal latest in what critic calls a "circus" of a state supreme court.
7:19 | 12/03/14

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:



Skip to this video now

Now Playing:


Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Investigation: Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia?
In America, justice is supposed to be blind. Impartial and fair. But the case we're going to show you tonight raises questions about influence and America's courts. You're about to enter a world of big money and private jets in one of the country's poorest states, and one judge that doesn't want to talk about any of it. Here's ABC's Brian Ross, for our series, "Nightline investigates." Reporter: This is a story about powerful corporate interests. Wealthy lawyers with private jets. And you're getting rich. We are making money. Yes. Reporter: And what we discovered about one of the country's top judges. I'm justice robin Davis. Reporter: Something justice Davis had never disclosed. And I'm asking you, sir, why should I? Reporter: And it all takes place in a state whose supreme court has become for some a symbol of justice gone wrong. West Virginia. Well, the West Virginia supreme court is a circus masquerading as a court. Reporter: The story begins with a lawsuit against the manor care nursing home in west Virginia over the death of an elderly woman. She came out of the facility with multiple bruises, wounds, bed bound, almost in a comatose state. Reporter: Michael fuller has made millions of dollars as a lawyer, suing nursing homes that are part of big national chains like manor care. Bed sores, bruises, broken bones. Reporter: He uses television ads like this one to recruit his clients. Is that a kind of ambulance chasing, to do that? No, it's a form of educating the public. We have a talent with these cases. We do. We've been doing it for years and years. Reporter: Fuller is based in hattiesburg, Mississippi. But he and his associates fly in and out of West Virginia on a regular basis in his private jet. And in 2011, fuller won his biggest case yet against the manor care home. A record $91.5 million verdict in a state that puts a half million dollar came on most medical mall practice lawsuits. This woman died because people wouldn't pour her a glass of water and help her drink it. Reporter: Even so, $90 million plus? That's what the jury decided. Reporter: But both sides knew the huge verdict meant it was certain the case would end up in front of the five-member west Virginia supreme court. West Virginia is my home, as it always will be. Reporter: Within months, the cheech justice of the court, robin Davis, began to run for re-election. And fuller became a major fund-raiser for her campaign. How much did you raise for chief justice Davis? I don't know. I don't know. I mean, there's a limit as to what individuals can donate. I think we mixed out at that limit. I think the limit's $1,000. Reporter: But he helped to raise a lot more than that. According to state campaign records, justice Davis received more than $37,000 from people with ties to fuller. Many of them residents of fuller's hometown of plant city, Florida, who, despite their modest homes, gave $1,000 each for a judicial election in another state more than 700 miles away. Fuller acknowledged he encouraged his friends to contribute, including his pilot. Absolutely, yes. Reporter: You don't see a problem with that, when you have such an important case pending before her? No. Reporter: But it turns out fuller also had a private business relationship with the judge's husband, Scott Seigle, seen with his wife here in this campaign ad. And what is your relationship with him? We've talked. I've helped one of his associates with some cases. And that's about it. Reporter: That's all? We don't do any other work together. Reporter: What fuller left out was the hardly minor detail discovered by ABC news that he bought his private jet from the chief justice's husband. The price? More than $1 million. Did you buy an airplane from him? We did. Reporter: Why did you buy an airplane from him, of all people? It was a deal that we found and we thought was a good deal on a plane. Reporter: Did it raise an appearance of a conflict? I don't think so. Reporter: Justice Davis never disclosed the million dollar plus jet sale when fuller later appeared before her. It's a huge problem. The lack of disclosure here is a pattern in West Virginia. Reporter: First coming to national attention six years ago, in another multimillion dollar case. This one, involving the tough-talking iing coal company boss don Blankenship. You're going to start -- How are you doing? ABC news. Sir -- don't touch my camera. Reporter: Blankenship raised more than $3 million to elect one justice. And was caught meeting with another justice, the then chief justice, on the French Riviera. The U.S. Supreme court castigated the West Virginia court in a land mamark ruling, saying, there was here a serious, objective risk of actual bias. And it has developed a reputation as being a court where impart y'allty is highly questioned. And now James sample, who worked on the case on the side opposite of Blankenship, says the million dollar private jet transaction should have been disclosed when fuller's case reached the court. Absolutely, no question. It's proper to disclose and it similar prop improper not to disclose. Reporter: But getting justice Davis to respond was no easy matter. She dodged our cameras for two days until she finally emerged from chambers to say there was no reason to disclose the airplane sale or to recuse herself. Let many be abundantly clear. The plane is owned by my husband. It was sold through a broker, an airplane broker and I understand that ABC has spoken to my husband and to the broker. Other than that, I have nothing else to say. Have a great day. Do you think you should have disclosed the relationship, judge? Why? Why? I'm just asking whether you feel it should have been -- And I'm asking you, sir, why should it? Might it be reasonable to question her impartial y'allty here? If the answer is yes, it's a slam dunk and it calls for reaccusal. Reporter: Not every legal expert agrees. And in the end, justice Davis wrote the decision herself, deciding the half million dollar cap did not apply and awarding fuller's clients $42 million. The cut for the lawyers? $17 million. Business relationship with the lawyer before -- I have no business relationship with him then nor now. Have a great day. Reporter: For "Nightline," Brian Ross, ABC news, Charleston, West Virginia.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"duration":"7:19","description":"Undisclosed private airplane deal latest in what critic calls a \"circus\" of a state supreme court.","mediaType":"default","section":"ABCNews/Nightline","id":"27327085","title":"Investigation: Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia?","url":"/Nightline/video/investigation-lear-jet-justice-west-virginia-27327085"}