Coal Tattoo

Gazette, NPR seek to open Massey merger files

The Charleston Gazette has joined NPR in a legal motion that urges the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to open for public scrutiny records in a case over the Massey Energy-Alpha Natural Resources merger.

The motion was just filed with the Supreme Court by Sean McGinley of the Charleston firm DiTrapano Barrett & DiPiero on behalf of the Gazette and NPR. I’ve posted a copy of the filing here.

In response to a motion to seal the record, filed by lawyers for the California State Teachers Retirement System (a Massey shareholder that is seeking to block the merger), the NPR-Gazette motion says:

It is unsurprising that the parties to this case ‘endorse’ the secrecy orders; they likely would prefer to avoid any public scrutiny. Yet this Court is not obligated to pander to parties’ desires to hide from public scrutiny. Massey Energy and its related entities form one of the largest employers in this State. As such, Massey’s conduct, the sale or potential sale of the company, the required public disclosure of relevant information concerning the value of the company to shareholders so they can make informed decisions, and the actions of the parties in this case is of great interest and concern both to the citizens of West Virginia, and nationally as well.

In addition, there is a greater cause for public scrutiny of the filings in this matter in light of the April 5, 2010, explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The suspicious circumstances surrounding that tragedy has resulted in numerous lawsuits, including the recently-filed suit alleging that the sale of Massey to Alpha will harm the ability of victims and their families to recover damages.

The filings in this case likely will shed new light on Massey’s acts and or omissions in relation to this tragedy.

The court filing continues:

This litigation is the result of a highly controversial sale of one of the state’s largest companies. It also includes important records concerning that company’s acts and omissions in one of the worst mining accidents in recent history.

If the Court seals the record and undertakes its review of the case in secret, the risk of losing the public’s confidence in the judicial system is increased exponentially.

The Gazette and NPR’s Howard Berkes have both been providing ongoing news coverage and investigative stories about the Upper Big Branch disaster.