Another Legal Victory for Tough Coal Boss

Blankenship's relationships with W. Va. justices raise questions.


April 7, 2008— -- The CEO of the country's fourth largest coal company scored another legal victory last week, just days after an ABC News producer attempted to question him about his financial and personal relationships with West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

Questions have emerged about Massey Energy chairman Don Blankenship's relationships with state supreme court justices who are hearing appeals by Massey that could cost his company hundreds of millions of dollars.

The court ruled in favor of Massey late last week in a $70 million appeal in which a smaller company, Harman Mining, had accused Massey of running it out of business by defaulting on contracts and committing fraud. Harman had won the case in trial court, but Massey appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Shortly after the initial verdict against Massey, Blankenship helped to raise $3.5 million for an advertising campaign that led to the defeat of one of the Supreme Court justices. The winning candidate who benefited from Blankenship's money, Justice Brent Benjamin, has refused to recuse himself from the Massey appeals. Benjamin turned down a request from ABC News to be interviewed. Despite numerous requests for his recusal, Benjamin writes in court documents that there is no evidence to suggest that he cannot be fair and impartial.

The Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard did recuse himself from the Massey appeal, having initially sided with the company in the first appeal, after photographs surfaced showing that he vacationed with Blankenship in the French Riviera.

Justice Maynard told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast tonight on "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline" that there was nothing improper about the trip and that he paid his own way for himself and his female companion.

Lawyers for Harman Mining say they are appealing last week's ruling to the United States Supreme Court.

"We will ask the Supreme Court of the United States to review Justice Benjamin's insistence on deciding this case in favor of Massey despite Benjamin having received the benefit of massive, and unprecedented, campaign contributions from Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship," said Dave Fawcett, the attorney for Harman Mining.

Massey released a statement saying, "As we said previously, we have always believed that the verdict in the lower court was wrong, and we are pleased that the WV Supreme Court has once again agreed."

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