Coal Tattoo

Massey insider wanted to share warning

A former Massey Energy insider said this morning he had hoped his warnings about serious safety problems would be shared with all Massey employees as part of a wholesale effort to improve the company’s performance.

Bill Ross, a former Massey ventilation expert, choked up on the witness stand as he testified for a second day in the criminal trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

“I thought it would be shared with everyone,” Ross testified, when asked about a follow up memo that recommended reforms be made at Massey less than a year before the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine. “I never thought to keep it private and confidential.”

Ross though read to jurors from emails in which then-Massey lawyer Stephanie Ojeda told him to mark each page of his memo as “confidential.”

Ross said that language was also added to the final of his memo – addressed to Blankenship – which said “DO NOT COPY OR DISTRIBUTE.”

Jurors then heard again a recording of a telephone call in which Blankenship worried that the Ross memo would be damaging if it came to light in any litigation following an injury or death at a Massey mine.

Ross was unable to identify any specific safety changes that Massey made in response to his recommendations.

“I wasn’t in charge of anyone” Ross told jurors. “I had no authority.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby tried to ask Ross how federal agents ended up obtaining his memos. Lead defense attorney Bill Taylor objected. U.S. District Judge Irene berger held a private conference with attorneys at her bench.

After a few minutes, Berger called a recess and had the jury taken out of the courtroom. Even after jurors had left, the judge continued the private discussion with attorneys at her bench with a “white-noise” machine turned on so the public and the press could not hear what was said.