West Virginia Judicial Commission Clears Top Justice in Ethics Matter

Justice had not disclosed $1M jet deal between husband and attorney.

— -- The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission has issued an ethics opinion clearing state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis of wrongdoing in response to an ethics complaint filed earlier this year regarding the justice’s failure in 2012 to disclose a $1 million jet airplane deal between her husband and an attorney appearing before her.

“The sale of the plane would not have been a significant event in her demanding judicial position,” wrote Ronald Wilson, chairperson of the Judicial Investigation Commission. “There is no evidence to support a finding of probable cause that [Davis] violated the Judicial Code of Conduct.” The ruling by the nine-member commission was unanimous.

The independent judicial review panel had harsh words both for the businessman who filed the complaint, and for the ABC News report that brought it about.

The opinion blasted Bill Maloney for issuing a press release upon filing his ethics complaint against Davis. Doing so, it said, “gives the impression that Mr. Maloney was motivated by self-seeking political and egotistical political purposes.”

Maloney responded Wednesday to the report, telling ABC News he believes the results of the independent review “just smell.”

“There is something not right with selling a Learjet to a person with a huge case pending before the court, while running for re-election, then accepting campaign contributions from the same individual and making the choice not to disclose it,” Maloney said in a statement emailed to reporters. “The fact that a commission appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which it is responsible for overseeing, found in Justice Davis' favor means nothing – It’s still wrong!”

Further, the opinion said the ethics complaint was based on “unprincipled allegations made by those involved in creating the so-called ABC News story.”

“The commission does not accept as proof allegations made in the mass media,” Wilson wrote.

The commission also included criticism of Hofstra University Law Prof. James Sample, though not by name, instead referring to him as an “expert” in quotation marks. Sample appeared in the ABC News report, and said he felt Davis had not fulfilled her obligation to disclose the private business transaction.

Reached Wednesday, Sample said he did not want to get into a war of words with the commission. But he did defend his credentials as a recognized expert who has published numerous papers and spoken widely on judicial ethics. Widely-known judicial expert Richard Hasen, a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, recently referred to Sample as the author of “some of today’s most important work on judicial elections and judicial recusal” in the country.

“My credentials are quite well established,” Sample said.

“If they didn’t see a conflict in this situation, I’d look at where their oversight comes from,” Sample said, noting that the commission’s nine members are all appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

A copy of the opinion was emailed to ABC News by Jennifer Bundy, the spokesperson for the West Virginia Supreme Court.

“Justice Davis will have no comment ,” Bundy wrote.

The Commission consists of nine members: three circuit judges; one magistrate; one family court judge; one senior status judge, and three members of the public. All members of the Commission are appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

This report was updated July 23, 2015.