Gavel Grab

W.Va. Judicial Ethics Report Eyed Through Lens of ‘Caperton’

An ABC News report questioning the ethics of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice (see Gavel Grab) continues to generate debate. Now an assistant law professor suggests the state could take a leadership role on judicial ethics questions.

“Because the West Virginia Supreme Court is sort of in the spotlight and has been with a number of years with the issue of canons requiring to recuse or disclose when there is an appearance of impropriety, West Virginia is in position to take a leadership role on these questions of judicial ethics,” Kendra Huard Fershee of the West Virginia University College of Law told the Charleston Daily Mail.

Not long ago, West Virginia became the poster child for critics of runaway judicial election spending in a case that brought disrepute to the court and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Caperton v. Massey ruling (see the JAS web page for background). Fershee said that after Caperton, the context for a West Virginia Supreme Court justice’s weighing the appearance of impropriety, in order to decide whether to recuse from a case, is different.

“If people are on high alert, the potential for impropriety at the Supreme Court level based on Caperton, the standard is even more sensitive or even lower than it would already be,” she said.

ABC News questioned whether  election-year fundraising and a plaintiff’s attorney’s private Lear Jet deal tipped the scales of justice in a case before the high court, or at least gave that appearance. Chief Justice Robin Davis said she was not involved in the jet transaction, she did not know who the campaign donors were, and there was no reason for her to recuse from the case at issue.

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