Coal Tattoo


UPDATED, 9 A.M. TUESDAY: Here’s the link for a more complete report in this morning’s Gazette.

Updating from the AP story first posted here about an hour ago … I have a copy of the motion seeking to force Mingo County Judge Michael Thornsbury to step down from the big Rawl Sales slurry case, and I’ve posted that document here (careful, it’s 12 MB).

The initial AP story focused on an allegation that Thornsbury is friends with Don Blankenship, president of Rawl Sales’ parent company, Massey Energy. That particular allegation doesn’t show up until Paragraph 16 of the motion (See page 5). It’s only natural for it to draw the most attention, considering the controversy over Blankenship’s relationships with former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard and current Chief Just Bent Benjamin.

But the motion, filed Friday by lawyers for hundreds of Mingo County residents who say Massey polluted their water, focuses instead on the relationship between Thornsbury and a local doctor appointed by the judge to oversee a medical monitoring fund set up as part of the case.

Recall  that this is a case about whether Rawl Sales and Processing’s injection of slurry into underground mine workings polluted water supplies for hundreds of families, making people sick and creating the potential for further illnesses down the road.

We’ll get back to the part about Blankenship … here is the crux of the other allegations:

Judge Thornsbury appointed Dr. C. Donovan Beckett as administrator of multi-million dollar medical monitoring trust  created by the Court’s Certification of a Medical Monitoring Class Action on behalf of all current and former residents of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg, along with Community Trust Bank, Inc., as the trustee.

But, the motion alleges Beckett is a contractor for Massey, providing treatment– through a separate entity from Beckett’s normal practice — for Massey employees.

And, the motion alleges:

Dr. Beckett is also the judge’s business partner in Williamson Renaissance Development Inc. He and Dr. Beckett are co-debtors on a $1.6 million deed of trust as part of this business relationship.


Dr. Beckett served as Judge Thornsbury’s campaign manager in his last judicial election. As campaign manager, Dr. Beckett worked with Jackson Kelly PLLC, Massey’s law firm in this matter, to hold a fundraiser for Judge Thornsbury.

The motion states that Thornsbury did not disclose these relationships when he appointed Beckett and Community Trust Bank to handle the medical monitoring trust.

As for Blankenship, the motion says Thornsbury had lunch with the Massey CEO at “Starters,” after a mediation session and just before a settlement conference in the case on April 30, 2009. A footnote mentions that Starters is a restaurant located in one of the properties owned by Thornsbury and Beckett.

As accompanying legal brief says the judge and Blankenship “are friends and socialize with some frequency.”

The motion says:

Were this simply an isolated event in an otherwise error free proceeding, Plaintiffs would not necessarily complain … But it is not. Viewed in the context of the other instances of bias and cronyism, it is clear that Judge Thornsbury lacks awareness of Canon 2(A): “A judge shall … avoid impropriety and the appearance of improprierty in all of the judge’s activities.”