Massey gives protesters what they want

March 10, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Raleigh County Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison might not see the protesters in his courtroom again, but environmental activists seem unlikely to halt their peaceful actions against Massey Energy anytime soon.

As the Gazette reported earlier,  Hutchison agreed yesterday morning to consolidate Massey’s court actions against the protesters and ship the cases over to his fellow Raleigh Circuit Judge, Robert A. Burnside. But first, Hutchison extended his previous temporary restraining order for a couple more weeks.

Hutchison also made it abundantly clear that he means his TRO (and Burnside’s) to be very broad, and to help Massey try to fend off anyone who seeks to use peaceful civil disobedience tactics against the company’s mountaintop removal operations in Southern West Virginia. Apparently, Burnside had expanded his TRO to include anyone “associated with” previous protesters or “acting in concert” with those already named in the Massey court actions.

One protester, Rory McIlmoil, questioned that, saying that people “associated” with the activists “could be thousands of people.”

Hutchison snapped:

Then it enjoins thousands of people. Everyone is enjoined from interfering with the processes at these facilities.

The hearing was pretty short, and it actually ended up boiling down to some simple logistical questions, once Massey moved to consolidate the cases under a different judge.

But the company still came loaded for bear, with three lawyers from the firm Spilman Thomas and Battle.

niallpaul.jpgTheir lead counsel was one of Spilman’s top litigators, Niall Paul, who was last seen defending Massey against two widows of the Aracoma Mine fire and helping DuPont co. avoid liability for polluting the drinking water of thousands of Parkersburg residents.

sambrock.jpgAlso representing Massey was Sam Brock, left, whose love of reading and books, interestingly enough, was profiled Sunday by the Gazette’s Sandy Wells. The third Massey lawyer was a recent law school graduate named Tim Houston, below.timhouston-website.jpg

Massey also had their head security guy there, along with two private investigators — who felt the need to take photographs of anybody in the audience who looked like they might turn out to be a future protester.

[UPDATED — the Climate Ground Zero has a dandy photo of the Massey private investigators]

(In response to several queries about this … West Virginia’s court rules leave it up to individual judges to decide if cameras are allowed in their courtrooms.  Judge Hutchison allows photography, and once the judge makes that decision, I don’t think he could very well limit who takes pictures and what they take pictures of, unless it involves prohibiting photos of jurors, to protect their privacy and assure a defendant’s right to a fair trial. But that’s not to say the behavior of these investigators was especially subtle or didn’t seem aimed at intimidating citizens who simply exercised their rights to attend a court hearing on an issue of interest.)


Mike Roselle, right, and James McGuinness of Climate Ground Zero did a celebratory fist bump during their Feb. 25 protest at Performance Coal’s Edwight mountaintop removal site in Southern West Virginia. Photo by Antrim Caskey.

At one point during yesterday’s hearing, activist Mike Roselle tried to complain that the two private investigators were taking Roselle’s photo and “going around to all my neighbors and calling me a terrorist.” Hutchison didn’t want to hear it, and told Roselle to file a motion about his complaint if he wanted the court to do something about it. Recall that coal industry officials were successful in pitching stories to some of the local media about what a violent radical Roselle is, despite little evidence to support the allegations. (See Anti-coal activist drawing some heat)

After this hearing, I have to wonder even more if Massey isn’t playing right into the protesters’ hands. I mean, what activists like Roselle really want is publicity — I don’t mean personal glory or that sort of thing. It’s no accident that among those cited during several of the protest actions were two photojournalists who went along to document the incidents. What the activists want is media coverage of their protests which explains why they’re willing to risk jail to stop mountaintop removal. And they’re starting to get it. This week’s nationwide public radio show Living on Earth included a segment about the big anti-coal protest in Washington, D.C., that also featured a discussion of the new civil disobedience in West Virginia’s southern coalfields.

One fellow I know in the coal industry asked me how I would like it if a couple of coal miners who don’t like my blog came into the Gazette newsroom and chained themselves to my computer keyboard. Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. So let’s be clear: Trespassing is against the law.  Roselle and the other protesters expect to be arrested or cited. They want to be arrested or cited. That’s the whole point, folks.

And each legal step Massey takes to turn up the heat on the protesters will only increase the amount of publicity the dispute gets. In the courthouse hallway after yesterday’s hearing, I asked Roselle about that, and he smiled and declined to comment.

Come on, I said, why would Massey go to all this trouble, spend a bunch of money on lawyers and ratchet things up, when doing so plays right into the protesters’ hands?

“Well, they’ve got a reputation for using the sledgehammer approach,” Roselle finally said.

10 Responses to “Massey gives protesters what they want”

  1. bamsterman says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. EDITED TO REMOVE NAME-CALLING. They are now dealing with a new breed that could care less about their money and won’t be intimidated in backing off.
    Like Robert F Kennedy Jr. has said, “If America really knew what was taking place in the Coal River Valley and throughout Southern West Virginia with mountaintop removal, there would be a revolution.” Massey and their big shot attorneys are now helping to get the story out. The movement has begun and it can’t be stopped.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Just a guess here — but I bet that no matter what information I provided, you would refuse to consider anything as a viable alternative to what our energy mix is now.

    But in any event, I appreciate you reading the blog — and I would even appreciate more specific criticisms of the coal alternatives outlined in those posts. It’s pretty easy to say you don’t see anything that. It’s tougher to go through the science there and explain why you think it’s wrong.

    Also, I’d suggest if you really want to dig into this that you read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on mitigation of climate change, posted here:

    It’s the best state of the science about what we should do to provide energy and deal with climate change.

    Interestingly, it doesn’t say to stop using ALL coal. But the bottom line is that if coal wants to keep being part of the mix, they’ve got to stop building coal plants without carbon capture and storage. When the coal industry comes out and clearly supports that action, then industry folks can say that they’re sincere about dealing with these problems.


  3. Maria Lambert says:

    I thank You for your stories on all these issues. Some of the people I have worked with on our own issue of contaminated water, understand that we can’t just stop coal production. It is just not going to happen, BUT the government could help the people living around the mining areas by making and upholding the laws that are suppose to be in place.
    I have always been against MTR , it is destroying our recreational areas and the many natural resources like water. But it is not the COAL MINERS fault they have to feed their families, it is the government intities that issue the permits.

    God has got their number and I believe they will be held accountable for the damage they are doing for the sake of an almighty dollar, they say it’s for the sake of the energy crisis, but if there are no people then what use is energy.

    Our families have been in the mining industry for a century or more, I have never heard a good word for the companIES (not just one) it is always the same story “Safety Stops at the Drift Mouth” !!!

    Again I thank you for your work and good reporting.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    That’s all fine — except I and many others have offered concrete science about various alternatives — and you are writing them off, without providing any basis for doing so except that you don’t believe it.

    I’d like to see some specific criticisms of the information provided in those two “Replacing Coal” posts I mentioned.


  5. Brenda says:

    Good job Maria – this battle is not about shutting down mines and/or causing hard working men and women to lose their jobs. Rather it is about people’s most basic human rights. Like not having some corporations waste in their water supply because its cheaper than using a dry press, not having their homes destroyed or depreciated from blasting, not having to leave with the threat of flash floods because no vegetation remains, not worrying that billions of gallons of waste might break through an earthen damn. Based on what I have heard people (residents of this state and this country) simply want the laws that regulate these companies enforced. There is a reason why that stream of traffic heading towards the mines at shift change is mostly from a different community or county. How many miners at Marsh Fork have children at that school or family living below that pond?

  6. John Shurtz says:

    Good articles Ken.
    Keep up the reporting on this critical issue!

  7. Bob Kincaid says:

    We’ve seen this before.

    We’ve seen coal companies demonize a non-violent individual.

    We’ve seen coal companies leverage the full impact of their inherent control of the political and judicial process in this state to stop a lone activist armed with nothing but the truth.

    My grandfather was working the New River coalfields the last time something like this happened.

    They called the person who stood up to the coal bosses then “Mother Jones.”

    Welcome to West Virginia, Mike Roselle. You’re in mighty good company when the coal gang is treating you like they did Mary Harris Jones. May you be made of the same stern stuff as she.

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