Just when Chris Blanchard thought it was safe to step down from the witness stand …
Friday’s session of court in the Don Blankenship criminal trial appeared to be over. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby had completed his re-direct examination of Blanchard (see here, here and here), the former president of Performance Coal Co., the Massey Energy unit that operated the Upper Big Branch Mine.
People were packing up. U.S. District Judge Irene Berger was getting ready to dismiss the jury. So Blanchard left the witness stand — where he’s been testifying since last Thursday — and started walking out of the courtroom.
Then lead Blankenship defense lawyer Bill Taylor jumped from his table with a stack of papers in his hand and asked to approach the bench. Lawyers for both sides huddled with Judge Berger in another of the trial’s frequent private conferences. About then, Blanchard appeared to figure out something was up, and one of his attorneys, Ben Bailey, told him to head on back up to the witness stand.
After a few minutes, Judge Berger dismissed the jury for the weekend. Then, she continued the legal argument in public session — giving the rest of us a chance to hear what was going on.
Taylor — citing a long list of what he said were “new” avenues of inquiry by the prosecution on re-direct — wants the opportunity to re-cross examination Blanchard. Taylor mentioned several dozen MSHA citations that Ruby asked Blanchard about and Ruby’s questions to Blanchard about Blanchard’s grand jury testimony, among other things. Ruby opposed the request, saying none of those items were really new.
Judge Berger said she would notify the parties of her decision on Monday. There’s no court on Monday, and the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse here in Charleston.