Coal Tattoo

Massey gives protesters what they want

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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.)

fistbump1.jpg

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.