The fiery indignation displayed by Justice Robin Davis at Tuesday’s announcement of her sudden retirement did not mask the truth: Her 22-year tenure on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ended with an embarrassing whimper.
After the House of Delegates impeached her and the three other justices on Monday for, among other things, spending more than $500,000 of taxpayer money to renovate and furnish her office, Davis faced the prospect of a trial in the Senate during which every detail of the spending would be brought to light.
Some of the details we already know are astonishing: $90,000 for flooring, countertops and a glass door; $28,000 in rugs; $23,000 for “design services.”
Photos of her distinctive office decor are publicly available and would no doubt have been exhibits in her Senate trial.
Some Davis defenders have hinted that a large portion of her renovation expense was due to structural issues unique to her office. But it’s odd — and perhaps telling — that those details were never laid out with any specificity.
On Tuesday, Davis angrily denounced what she called a majority “plot” to oust her. The truth is that with voters paying close attention to the Supreme Court spending scandal, and an election weeks away, senators in her own party would be reluctant to defend her.
By retiring Tuesday, she spared Democrats further embarrassment and ensured that another justice will be elected this November, rather than appointed for a two-year stint by Gov. Jim Justice.
So Democrats and Republicans may be grateful for her gesture, but Davis is hardly the martyr she seems to imagine herself. Her office renovation is not the first time her high-handed and imperious behavior has embarrassed the state, though fortunately it looks to be the last.
For all the ire Davis showed Tuesday, it’s West Virginia voters who have the real right to be angry: angry about the overspending by Davis and her colleagues, angry at the arrogance and sense of entitlement, and angry about the turmoil in the judicial system that has resulted.
If, as she claimed in her statement, Davis’ first concern is for “the people,” she should consider reimbursing the people the half a million dollars taxpayers spent on her office — including $24,500 for marble baseboards, $74,000 for cabinets, $56,500 for glass countertops, and more.
That amount of money could go a long way in state government — and a long way toward healing the damage this ugly episode has caused.