CHARLESTON — Justice Robin Davis, who spent more than two decades on the West Virginia Supreme Court announced her immediate retirement amid impeachment proceedings.
Davis, who made the announcement in the Supreme Court’s chamber, blasted the impeachment process and said her retirement is the only way voters could have a say on who fills the seat.
“What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed, our very society,” Davis stated. “For when a legislative body attempts to dismantle a separate branch of government, the immediate effects, as well as the precedent it sets for the future, can only be termed disastrous.”
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, refuted that position today during an appearance on MetroNews’ “Talkline.
“I certainly assure you nobody involved in the process had any idea where it would lead and certainly didn’t have any intention of using it as a tool to affect the judiciary,” Shott said. “That wasn’t our task and it wasn’t our goal.”
Davis’s retirement letter to Gov. Jim Justice, dated the same day as the impeachment proceedings, was succinct: “Effective today, August 13, 2018, I hereby retire as a Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
Today is the deadline for an open spot on the Supreme Court to appear on the General Election ballot, rather than being filled through appointment by the governor. The seat vacated by former Justice Ketchum is already on the ballot with the filing period still open.
The filing period for the seat that will open with Davis’s resignation would open Wednesday and run through August 21, said Steve Connolly of the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
Connolly said candidates for the two Supreme Court seats that are now open would need to register to run for one or the other. The seat vacated by Justice Davis would be a six-year term, while the seat vacated by Justice Ketchum would be a two-year term.
Candidates who have already filed for the first opening could still switch to the second opening, Connolly said.
“We’re so close to the general election we’re encouraging anybody who has any interest in running for the general election to make that decision. It’s probably one of the biggest undertaking they’ll ever make, but try to do that as quickly as possible. We don’t want chaos on the ballot.”
A statement by Gov. Jim Justice said the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will immediately begin the process of filling this vacancy with an appointee until citizens can elect a new justice in a special election.
Davis’s announcement was watched by a full crowd of onlookers at the court chamber. She made brief, prepared remarks, her voice conveying inflections of anger and sadness.
A two-sentence media advisory sent out by the state Supreme Court Tuesday morning said there would be an “important announcement” at in the Court’s chamber at 9:30 Tuesday morning.
The announcement followed the impeachment Monday of the four justices on the Supreme Court. They were named in 11 of 14 Articles of Impeachment under consideration by the House of Delegates.
The only justice who wasn’t under consideration for impeachment was Menis Ketchum, spared because he submitted his resignation the day before proceedings began.
The justices were accused of crossing the line on a variety of items, including failure to hold each other accountable, signing off on skirting the law on payment of senior status judges and spending lavishly on office renovations.
In the adopted articles now going to trial in the state Senate, seven name suspended Justice Allen Loughry, four against Justice Davis, three for Chief Justice Margaret Workman and one for Justice Beth Walker.
Davis’s statement blasted the impeachment process and the Republican majority in the Legislature.
“Most majority members of the judiciary committee have skipped from one subject to another, irrationally, and without due process of law,” Davis stated. “The majority party has established a preconception which they bring forth, without regard to the evidence, or the process by which that evidence should be considered.
“The majority members have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court. They have erased the lines of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority party in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences. The will of the people is being DENIED!”
Any vacancies on the Court that would happen after today would be filled by Governor Justice, a Republican. Davis and Workman are Democrats. Democratic members of the House has been pushing for the impeachment process to be over by today so any open spots would be on the ballot.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, released a statement thanking Davis for her service and for today’s decision.
“We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Davis to step down from the West Virginia Supreme Court,” Carmichael stated.
“Because of her decision to step down today, the Governor will be able to give the people of West Virginia the ability to choose the person who will replace her. We thank Justice Davis for the years of service she gave to the State of West Virginia, and we wish her well in the future.”
Davis was elected to the court in a partisan election in 1996 to fill an unexpired term vacated by Justice Franklin Cleckley. She was re-elected in 2000.
Her current term was to expire in 2024. Davis served as chief justice of the court in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2014.
Davis is a Boone County native and is married to Charleston trial lawyer Scott Segal.