January 15, 2008

Motion Ties W. Virginia Justice to Coal Executive - New York Times

This is a hell of a story. It is well known that Richmond based Massey Coal monkeys around in politics in coal states in order to protect its massive holdings and continue particularly destructive mountaintop removal coal mining. And that Massey Coal has had (at least) many thousands of very destructive violations of the Clean Water Act as it dumps waste wherever the hell it feels like (see this striking article for more details).

Now comes this remarkable story that Ed Blankenship, CEO of Massey, and West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elliott E. Maynard went on a lover's holiday to Monte Carlo. The pictures accompanying the articles are charming.

All a matter of simple co-inky-dink, according to Massey Energy.

I do have a couple of questions. One central one of which is: what the hell public servant from anywhere, let alone WVa, is vacationing in Monaco? The second question is: shouldn't this clown be tarred and feathered by the good people of West Virginia?

Motion Ties W. Virginia Justice to Coal Executive - New York Times

A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive’s companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

A little more than a year later, the justice, Elliott E. Maynard, voted with the majority in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of the coal companies.

Justice Maynard, who is now West Virginia’s chief justice, and Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy, were “vacationing together,” according to a motion seeking Justice Maynard’s disqualification, which was filed on Monday.

A spokesman for Massey Energy disputed that characterization.

“Both Blankenship and Justice Maynard were separately vacationing in the Monte Carlo area,” said the spokesman, Jeff Gillenwater. “They were not vacationing together. They did meet occasionally for meals — lunches and dinners.”...

Asked whether it was a coincidence that the two men found themselves in Monte Carlo at the same time, Mr. Gillenwater said, “That is a coincidence, I think, and it’s my understanding they were not staying in the same location.” Justice Maynard stayed in Nice, France, Mr. Gillenwater said, and Mr. Blankenship in nearby Monte Carlo.

The motion asked Chief Justice Maynard to disqualify himself from the case and to withdraw his vote in favor of the coal companies. The state’s canons of judicial ethics say that judges must disqualify themselves when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

They add that judges should disclose any information they believe the parties or their lawyers “might consider relevant to the question of their disqualification.”

Chief Justice Maynard did not disclose the meetings in Monte Carlo, and he did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Ten of the photographs attached to the motion were filed under seal. They showed, the motion said, “two females apparently traveling with them as companions.” The men are single.

The case itself was brought by mining companies that said they had been driven out of business by fraud committed by Massey. “Make no mistake,” Justice Larry V. Starcher wrote in his dissent in November. “A West Virginia jury heard from all the witnesses for both sides, and decided that Mr. Don Blankenship directed an illegal scheme to break” the companies.

Mr. Blankenship and his companies have attracted attention for labor disputes, workplace injuries and what environmentalists call a highly destructive form of mining called mountaintop removal that involves using explosives to blow off the tops of mountains to reach coal seams."

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