Company Calls W.Va. Justice's Failure to Disclose ‘Extremely Troubling’

Loser in lawsuit learned of judge’s husband’s $1M plane deal from ABC report.

ByABC News
December 3, 2014, 4:10 PM

— -- Revelations of an undisclosed business deal between the husband of West Virginia’s highest-ranking justice and a lawyer appearing before her are “extremely troubling,” according to a statement from the company that ended up on the losing side of the case.

Executives of HCR Manorcare said they had no idea, until a recent ABC News investigation, that the lawyer who won a $91.5 million verdict in trial court against them was also involved in a million dollar airplane deal with the justice's husband. They said they are now reviewing their legal options.

“The lack of transparency in West Virginia, at least in this instance, is extremely troubling,” said a statement released by HCR ManorCare, which paid out a $38 million settlement in the nursing home abuse case after losing its case in the state’s high court earlier this year. “We are disturbed and alarmed and reviewing all available legal options as events continue to unfold.”

The statement comes on the heels of an ABC News “Nightline” investigative report that revealed for the first time the details of a $1 million Learjet sale involving Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis’ husband, as well as the thousands of dollars that the plaintiff’s attorney helped raise for Davis’s successful 2012 reelection bid.

PHOTO: Attorney Michael Fuller, left, and colleagues arrive in West Virginia on Fuller's private plane.
Attorney Michael Fuller, left, and colleagues arrive in West Virginia on Fuller's private plane.

The sale occurred after a jury had awarded the plaintiffs in the case $91.5 million, and both sides of the case had publicly discussed plans to argue over the massive award before the state supreme court.

Legal experts told ABC News that Davis should have disclosed the business deal before hearing a case involving the lawyer, Michael J. Fuller – just as she had previously disclosed her husband’s ownership interest in the airplane in her personal financial disclosure reports.

“This does not look good for the rule of law,” said James Sample, an expert on judicial ethics at Hofstra University Law School. “A million-dollar sale of an airplane while litigation involving the lawyer who purchases the airplane is pending before the court? Absolutely no question. It’s proper to disclose, and it is improper to not disclose.”

Davis strongly disputed that during a brief interview with ABC News in the hallway outside her chambers in the state capital complex in Charleston.

“With regards to my husband’s plane, let me … 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,” she said. “Other than that, I have nothing else to say to them. Have a great day.”

When pressed on whether she should have disclosed the business deal between her husband and the lawyer in the case before her, she replied: “Why should I? … I am asking you sir, why should I? … I have no business relationship with him then, or now.”

The Charleston Gazette reported that Davis and her husband, attorney Scott Segal, released a lengthy statement responding to the ABC News report late Tuesday. Neither Segal nor court officials would respond to requests from ABC News for copies of the statement.

According to the Gazette, Davis said she was not aware that she had received $1,000 donations from more than two dozen people with ties to Fuller – many of them from Florida, where he grew up, and Mississippi, where he lives now.

According to the Gazette, Davis said in the statement, “I have never once looked at a list of my campaign contributors. I can’t tell you who did or did not contribute to my campaigns. It is of little interest to me.”