Coal Tattoo

Let’s review: Spike Maynard and Massey

It comes as little surprise that the West Virginia Coal Association endorsed Republican Spike Maynard’s bid for Congress, or as the AP’s Larry Messina documented, that contributors with ties to Massey Energy provided half of the campaign cash Maynard raised so far this month.

But as time passes, events overtake us, and sometimes we have little space in our brains or our news coverage for the details of things. Take exactly what happened with Maynard and the big case Massey Energy had on appeal to the Supreme court. The AP story describes the situation this way:

Massey Chief Executive Don Blankenship has been a major supporter of Maynard’s campaign. Their longtime friendship became an issue during Maynard’s unsuccessful re-election campaign for state Supreme Court in 2008. Photos surfaced showing the two sharing drinks and socializing in Monaco, at a time when Massey had appeals before Maynard’s court.

Heck, the Daily Mail managed to endorse Maynard without even mentioning the whole thing, let alone trying to explain it away.

But it’s worth taking a look at the timeline and remembering how the events transpired…

— Back on Aug. 1, 2002, a Boone County jury returned a more than $50 million verdict against Massey Energy, finding that the company had forced Harman Mining out of business and into bankruptcy by illegally taking away its major long-term coal contract.

— On Oct. 24, 2006, after a long delay in obtaining a trial transcript Massey appealed to the state Supreme Court. The case was argued on Oct. 10, 2007, and an opinion issued on Nov. 21, 2007 — finding in favor of Massey and overturning the jury verdict.

— On Jan. 7, 2008, Harman Mining owner Hugh Caperton’s lawyer, Bruce Stanley, filed this Motion for Disqualification aimed at then-Justice Maynard. The motion asked Maynard to either disclose the nature of any  meetings or discussions with Don Blankenship or to disqualify himself from participating in a motion for rehearing. The m0tion explained:

… Caperton has been advised that Justice Maynard was observed dining with Massey Energy Company and A.T. Massey Chief Executive Don L. Blankenship on or about Nov. 8, 2007, in Logan, West Virginia, less than three weeks before this Court issued its majority opinion, in which Justice Maynard joined, overturning the judgment against A.T. Massey Company Inc. and the other Appellants.

While Caperton has been unable to independently verify such a dinner meeting, surely Justice Maynard can do so, and it is incumbent upon him, in order for the public to maintain its confidence in the appearance of the impartiality of this state’s highest legal tribunal, of which Justice Maynard will be serving as Chief Justice, to offer the full and complete details of the nature of his personal relationship with Mr. Blankenship, as well as the nature of the discussions had by them at his or any other meeting during the pendency of this matter before the Court.

— Then, nothing happened … until a week later, when Hugh Caperton’s lawyer filed this Amended Motion for Disqualification directed at Maynard. This time, the motion said:

… Mr. Caperton has become aware of the existence of thirty-four (34) photographs which depict chief Justice Maynard and Mr. Blankenship vacationing together in the Kingdom of Monaco during the time period of July 3-5, 2006. Copies of twenty-four (24) of these photographs are attached hereto as Exhibit “A.”

Ten (10) of the photographs also depict, in addition to Chief Justice Maynard and/or Mr. Blankenship, two females apparently traveling with them as companions.

By the time of this trip to the Kingdom of Monaco, this Honorable Court had already given considerable attention to this case, having ruled upon numerous petitions and motions, and was in the process of finalizing the record for purposes of entertaining Massey’s Petition for Appeal … However, at no time during the pendency of any of these lengthy proceedings has Chief Justice Maynard ever made a voluntary disclosure to Mr. Caperton regarding the depth, extent or nature of his personal relationship with Mr. Blankenship.

It wasn’t until four days after this Amendment Motion was filed that Maynard issued this three-paragraph memo announcing that he would recuse himself from any further participation in the case, saying:

The issue, because of the controversy surrounding this case, is no longer an issue of whether I can be fair and impartial. Rather, it is now has become an issue of public perception and public confidence in the courts. Above all else, I am very concerned about how the public views this court.

Without question, the Judicial Branch of state government should always be held in the highest public confidence and trust. The mere appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether it is supported by fact, can compromise the public confidence in the courts. For that reason — and that reason alone — I will recuse myself from this case.