On Dec. 2, 2014, Professor James Sample appeared on ABC News’ Nightline in an investigative report about “intimate bonds in the legal and business community [that] have repeatedly created thorny ethical entanglements” in West Virginia.
The report, part of the “Nightline Investigates” series, also appears on the ABC News website. The headline incorporates a quote from Professor Sample.
U.S. Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court’
By Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk
Dec. 2, 2014
As a $90 million jury verdict was wending its way to the West Virginia Supreme Court, the lawyer handling the nursing home abuse case did more than prepare appellate briefs and ready himself for oral arguments. He was, critics said, pulling every lever available to him to try to give his client an edge outside the legal system — lining up thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for the court’s chief justice and negotiating a private deal to buy a $1.3 million Lear Jet from her husband.
When the nursing home case finally reached the state’s high court earlier this year, Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis wrote the majority opinion upholding the jury verdict for the client of lawyer Michael Fuller, though lowering the final payout to just over $40 million. The cut for Fuller’s firm: more than $17 million — one of the largest payouts he’s ever secured.
Davis never disclosed the airplane deal, telling ABC News she was under no obligation to do so because it involved her husband, and not her. But ethics experts have questioned that assertion.
“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.”
“This is a circus masquerading as a court,” Sample said.