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Legal News: Law Blog - WSJ.com
Reconfigured West Virginia High Court Hands Win to Massey Energy
By Dan Slater
In the ongoing controversy over the alleged perils of judicial elections, at least one thing is certain: We’re not short on case studies.
Yesterday, following a months-long game of musical chairs on West Virginia’s high court, the justices, in a 3-2 decision, reaffirmed the court’s November ruling in favor of Massey Energy, which overturned a $50 million jury verdict against the country’s fourth biggest coal company.
The jury had found that Massey forced Harman, a smaller company, and its owner into bankruptcy by committing fraud and illegally interfering with its business. In November, the high court reversed the jury decision. Shortly thereafter, however, the court agreed to rehear the case after photos surfaced showing one of the judges, Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard and Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO, vacationing together in France. Justice Larry Starcher followed Maynard’s suit, saying his public opinions of Blankenship could create the appearance of bias. Click here, here, here and here for earlier LB coverage. Here’s the report, from the WSJ.
As today’s story from the Charleston Gazette notes, Maynard and Starcher’s recusals canceled each other out. Maynard’s replacement, Circuit Judge Donald Cookman of Hampshire County, said Massey should have to pay the judgment. Circuit Judge Fred Fox of Marion County, who replaced Starcher, agreed with the majority that Massey should not have to pay.
Cookman joined Justice Joseph Albright in a strongly-worded 55-page dissent that said the jury verdict should have been upheld. “Not only is the majority opinion unsupported by the facts and existing case law, but it is also fundamentally unfair.
Lawyers for the losing coal company, Harman Mining Co., plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Justice Brent Benjamin, who refused to recuse himself, shouldn’t have heard the case because Massey CEO Blankenship spent millions of dollars to help the justice get elected to the court in 2004.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Justice Fox joined the dissent. In fact, Justice Fox was in the majority. Justice Cookman joined the dissent.
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