In West Virginia, coal is king and many are suggesting that its reach extends into the very chambers of the state’s highest court. An interesting fight is brewing in state and federal courts over allegations of bias for and against a leading coal company, Massey Coal. Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher has already recused himself under demands from Massey while he has accused other justices of having far greater bias in favor of the company and its executives.
After being challenged over statements that he made critical of the company, Starcher recused himself from participating in the review of the case against Massey Coal and five of its subsidiaries — worth almost $80 million. The court previously overturned the verdict against Massey but will not reconsider its decision — without Starcher.
Starcher’s past comment were critical not just of Massey Energy but its CEO, Don Blankenship.
In his filing, Starcher took the unusual step of pointing out that his colleague, Justice Brent Benjamin, has even more reasons to step aside — $4 million to be precise. Blankenship and his associates allegedly raised the money to pay for Benjamin’s campaign against incumbent Justice Warren McGraw.
Starcher has alleged that ” Mr. Blankenship, his money and his friendship have far more egregiously tainted the perceived impartiality of this court than any statement by me.” He complained that that Benjamin “not only remains on this case, as well as other Massey cases before the court, but that justice continues at this time to appoint replacement judges in all Massey cases.”
Massey has a case before the federal district court challenging Starcher’s past role and its impact on the case.
What is most interesting is that Benjamin became the Supreme Court’s acting chief justice in the Harman case after Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard stepped down earlier this year — following the disclosure of 34 photographs showing Blankenship and Maynard together on the French Riviera in July 2006. They were shown partying with female companions.
Once again, the story shows the flaws in the elected state bench and its vulnerability to campaign influence. For a recent column, click here
For the most recent story about of West Virginia, click here
4 thoughts on “Mining for Justice(s): West Virginia Scandal Erupts Over Mining Company Influence”
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Who says the good old days are behind us? If there ever were robber barons, Blankenship is certainly one for our time. Lest anyone defend the concept of elected Judges at any level above traffic court, I offer you Exhibit A – The West Virginia Supreme Court. You know, we in Virginia fought a war to lose those counties! (P.S.: Sorry for the poor joke at their expense, but as a Virginian I couldn’t resist)
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