Coal Tattoo


Photo by Antrim Caskey

As expected, a Raleigh County judge has ordered a halt to further protests against several Massey Energy mountaintop removal operations.  Circuit Judge Robert Burnside issued the preliminary injunction after two days of hearings in Beckley.

But activists said today their fight — and their peaceful civil disobedience actions — will continue.

Burnside ruled from the bench, and a written order has not yet been issued. But I talked with Roger Forman, attorney for the protesters, this morning and he filled me in on what Burnside has done.


Photo by Antrim Caskey.

The preliminary injunction blocks further protests on mine sites of Alex Energy (dba as Edwight Mining Company), Independence Coal Co., and Marfork Coal Co. It does not — as the earlier temporary restraining order did — extend to all Massey Energy affiliate operations. And it does not — as the TRO also did –  extend beyond Burnside’s jurisdiction in Raleigh County.

One important thing for readers to note: This is NOT a criminal case in which protesters have been charged with trespassing. Those are separate proceedings. Burnside is ruling in a civil lawsuit filed by Massey Energy subsidiaries to try to get a judge to block future protests, invoke more serious punishment (civil contempt, with fines or jail time) for future protesters, and require the State Police to handle future protests in specific ways.


Mountaintop removal protesters Charles Suggs, Matt Noerpel, Joseph Gorman, Cassandra Rice and Matthew Louis-Rosenberg wait in the courtroom for Judge Burnside to come back with his ruling. Photo by Antrim Caskey.

But, Burnside did say he would apply his injunction to future protesters who, while not named in any of the previous court papers, act in concert or in association with the protesters named in the injunction. It remains to be seen how broad that language will be once the judge enters a written order.

Also, Burnside refused to drop content of court citations for photojournalist Antrim Caskey and four protesters. Burnside had held them in contempt of his previous TRO for a mid-April protest action. Caskey had been enjoined in the TRO after she went onto mine property to photograph earlier civil disobedience actions.  None of the four protesters were named in the TRO, but they and Caskey were held in contempt of the order because they alerted her to their planned protest and she went along to document it. Caskey and the protesters have been fined $500 each.

Burnside also indicated he would include both Caskey and another journalist, Chad Stevens, as named parties specifically enjoined by his preliminary injunction.


Massey lawyer Sam Brock. Photo by Antrim Caskey.

In a bit of a win for the activists, Burnside refused a request by lawyers for Massey that State Police be instructed to confiscate cameras, film and memory cards from cameras in the possession of any future protesters.

Still, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has expressed concern about applying these sorts of court injunctions to journalists, and it seems likely this will be one avenue of appeal.

This morning, Climate Ground Zero organizer Mike Roselle said he didn’t think Judge Burnside gave activists a chance to argue their case, by presenting evidence about the impacts of mountaintop removal and showing that other methods of trying to halt the practice hadn’t worked.

“It was a gag order,” Roselle said.

Roselle also predicted the peaceful civil disobedience campaign to shut down mining operations and call more attention to mountaintop removal would not end.

“This isn’t over,” Roselle said. “As far as deterring us, we were well aware of the risks we faced before we started.”

An appeal is also likely, so stay tuned …