West Virginia Justice Challenged Over Controversial Learjet Deal

Businessman argues jet sale by Justice's husband may have impaired impartiality.

“The fact is, an attorney appearing before Justice Davis with a $90 million judgment in hand paid some $1.3 million to the Segal-Davis family, clearly creating a perception that the Justice’s ability to hear the case with complete impartiality could have been impaired,” wrote Bill Maloney, a Republican coal industry veteran from Morgantown who ran unsuccessfully for governor and now runs a conservative think tank.

The complaint is the latest challenge to Davis, the state court’s senior justice, following an ABC News investigation that discovered a lawyer appearing before her had purchased a Learjet from Alpine Air, the holding company solely owned by Davis’s husband, Scott Segal. The airplane sale took place just weeks after the Mississippi lawyer, Michael J. Fuller, had won a $90 million judgment for a client who was suing a nursing home for helping cause the death of his elderly mother. Davis found for Fuller’s client in the appeal and wrote the majority opinion in the decision that cut the award by $40 million but enabled Fuller to collect a $17 million fee. Maloney is not involved in the nursing home case, but in a statement indicated he filed the new complaint because he’s interested in protecting the reputation of the state’s judicial system so as to not scare off economic investments for the state.

Since the ABC News report aired, lawyers arguing cases against Fuller before the state supreme court have twice challenged her to recuse herself, and she has twice declined.

In a lengthy response to the first such request, Davis issued a 29-page opinion, saying that she was the victim of sensationalized press coverage by the national media – an apparent reference to the ABC News report.

“There are those who may argue that, even if the motion has no legal merit, I should step aside from the case in order to spare this Court and our great State from being assaulted by the outrageous fabrications that the national media will continue to heap upon our oft-maligned State,” Davis wrote. “This I cannot do. Courts are governed by law, not by media hype, and if I were to step aside in order to protect this Court from vicious and mean-spirited yellow journalism, I would in all likelihood encourage such tactics in the future by those who seek to use the media in order to manipulate the courts.”

Furthermore, Davis wrote that the “Petitioners' bare bone statements that I have a personal relationship with Mr. Fuller is a clear example of an abuse of the motion to disqualify.”

The Judicial Investigation Commission is an independent, nine-member panel established to look into complaints of judicial misconduct, and to insure the ethical conduct of judges. Maloney filed the complaint this week, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News. In his complaint, he argues that Davis should have disclosed both the Learjet transaction, and subsequent political fundraising that Fuller did on Davis’s behalf.

Davis has repeatedly argued the opposite. She said she does not know the identity of her campaign donors, and was unfamiliar with the details of the airplane sale while she was adjudicating the case. When approached for comment about the matter in December, the then-Chief Justice told ABC News she had no need to disclose the $1 million sale of a the aircraft, which she said was handled by a broker. She said she had no involvement in the deal.

“Why should I?” she told ABC News cameras.

West Virginia Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy told ABC News in an email Friday that Justice Davis has no comment on the matter.