Coal Tattoo

Bill Ross Nov 4

Photo by Joel Ebert

Former Massey Energy insider Bill Ross warned CEO Don Blankenship that the company risked a disaster if it didn’t reform its mine safety program, the jury in Blankenship’s criminal trial heard this afternoon.

Ross described for jurors a meeting he had with Blankenship in the summer 2009 after Ross wrote a series of memos that outlined growing violations at Massey operations.

“One thing you can’t afford to have happen,” Ross recalled telling Blankenship, “you can’t afford to have a disaster.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby allowed that quote to close out his direct examination of Ross, a key prosecution witness against Blankenship.

When US District Judge Irene Berger gave the jury its regular afternoon break, defense attorney Bill Taylor had just begun his cross-examination of Ross. Taylor was starting out by asking Ross a series of questions about what the defense is promoting as important Massey safety innovations, such as reflective clothing, that weren’t required by federal rules.

Earlier, Ruby asked Ross to read from a selection of daily violation reports that were sent to Blankenship and other Massey officials. On Tuesday, Ruby and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had lugged copies of the daily reports – in five thick three-ringed binders – to the court clerk and to defense lawyers.

The reports showed Blankenship being told that violations continued in large numbers even after a new company hazard elimination program was launched in August 2009.

One report, for example, showed 330 violations cited at the Upper Big Branch Mining group, in the three months prior to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at UBB.

Ross testified about several emails and memos in which he expressed disappointment with Massey’s progress to reduce violations. In one February 2010 email to then Massey lawyer Stephanie Ojeda, wrote Ross, “We are fighting a losing battle.”

In an accompanying memo, Ross said that the new hazard elimination program “shows no sign of acceptance” among Massey foremen.

“We continued to set up our mines to fail,” Ross wrote.

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.

Ross begins testimony in Blankenship trial

The jury in the Don Blankenship trial this afternoon began hearing from Bill Ross, a former Massey Energy ventilation expert, who warned Blankenship about growing safety problems at Massey nearly a year before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Under questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby, Ross testified about safety warnings he gave to Blankenship and other Massey officials in June 2009.

“We were getting a lot of violations and I was concerned about it,” Ross said. “Normally, a mine that has a lot of serious violations, it has a lot of injuries, fatalities.”

Ruby walked Ross through a now-widely publicized memo line-by-line and asked him to explain issues about mine ventilation, dust control, and Massey’s hostile relationship with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“All they wanted was for a company to comply” said Ross, who worked for MSHA for 32 years before he joined Massey. “You must take that agency seriously. They are out there to help the operator and protect the miner, too”
Ross read to the jury from the memo, quoting one Massey employee who told Ross during a safety class “We are told to run, run, run until we get caught. When we get caught, then we fix it.”

After reaching the end of each page of the memo, Ruby would have Ross read aloud a warning that the document was to be kept confidential.

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Former Massey Energy official Bill Ross — a major witness against Don Blankenship — as he leaves the federal building in Charleston at lunchtime Tuesday. Photo by Joel Ebert.

This afternoon should be a major moment in the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

When court resumes at 1:30 p.m., Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby is expected to call to the witness stand Bill Ross — a former MSHA official who after he retired from government service went to work for Massey as a mine ventilation expert.

Readers who are closely following the case know that Ross became an internal whistle-blower of sorts, raising serious concerns about deteriorating safety conditions at Massey operations.  We know this — and the government knows it — in part because a memo outlining Ross’s concerns came out when Blankenship sued Alpha Natural Resources to try to force Alpha, which bought Massey in June 2011, to continue paying Blankenship’s legal defense costs. The memo that became public prior to trial, when Blankenship’s defense team filed a motion to try to keep prosecutors from talking about it in their opening statement.

But not to be deterred, lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor gave it another shot late this morning, arguing that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger should seriously limit any testimony from Ross about what even Judge Berger is now calling “The Ross Memo.” Taylor asked for time to argue the issue again, just before prosecutors called Ross to the stand, and Judge Berger sent the jury out for more than a half-hour so she could hear from the attorneys.

Taylor urged Berger to allow Ross to be questioned only about parts of the memo. He proposed a “redacted” version with off-limits portions removed. He also said the government should not be able to discuss in front of the jury the issue of efforts by Massey to keep Ross’s concerns secret, as privileged material protected because of a Massey lawyer’s involvement in discussions with Ross.

Ruby responded that “The Ross Memo” had already been admitted into evidence in the case — and that the defense was simply trying to re-argue an issue it had already lost.

Judge Berger heard these arguments publicly — with the jury out of the room — for a few minutes. Then, she held another fairly lengthy bench conference, a private discussion with the attorneys that the public can’t hear. Then, the judge sent the jurors back to their counsel tables and ruled publicly.

Judge Berger said that the entire memo was fair game for questions of Ross, and reminded both sides that it was in evidence not to prove that the statements made (Ross based part of his concerns on statements made to him by Massey miners, who aren’t identified in the memo and therefore can’t be cross-examined by the defense), but to try to prove “knowledge and notice” on Blankenship’s part to the information contained in the memo:

These are coming in to show that the defendant had knowledge and notice — whatever he may have done with it.

Court resumes shortly …

We mentioned yesterday that a transcript of the grand jury testimony of former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard was publicly filed — and then removed — from the U.S. District Court computer docket for the Don Blankenship criminal case.

Well, now, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has entered this order regarding that transcript:

For reasons appearing to the Court, it is hereby ORDERED that Document 472-1 be placed UNDER SEAL.

The thing is, the transcript is already posted on the Internet here.  We obtained it many months ago when the defense lawyers for Blankenship filed a copy of it publicly, and then the court removed it from the PACER system’s public offerings. And it’s actually posted twice — because we downloaded the latest publicly filed copy of it yesterday (before the court removed it) and posted that version here.

 

Ross testimony forthcoming

This is an update by Joel Ebert, who is covering the Don Blankenship trial with Ken Ward Jr.

Following the conclusion of Harold Hayhurst’s testimony, the government called its next witness, Charles Lilly, a former security guard at Upper Big Branch.

Lilly told jurors that at one point in 2007, a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector overheard him warning underground miners that another MSHA inspector had arrived at the UBB mine.

The MSHA inspector then approached Lilly and told him the practice was illegal.

Lilly wrote an incident report, which was delivered to his boss, Hughie Elbert Stover. From there, Lilly said he would no longer partake in the practice of advance warning to underground miners unless the mine’s lawyers told him he could do so.

The prosecution ended its questioning of Lilly at about 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, and the jury was dismissed for their morning break. At that point, defense attorney Bill Taylor asked that the court stand in recess prior to the government calling its next witness, former MSHA official and Massey mine safety expert Bill Ross.

Ross wrote reports on safety concerns he had at Massey mines, which Blankenship himself previously called “confidential.”

Court was expected to resume at 11 a.m. Lilly has yet to undergo cross-examination.

Here’s a photo of Lilly I took after defense attorney finished his cross-examination and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin did his redirect.

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Former Upper Big Branch mine security guard Charles Lilly. Photo by Joel Ebert

A federal mine inspector testified today that he never told Massey Energy official Chris Blanchard that it was illegal to call underground and inform Massey miners that a government inspector was heading their way.

Harold Hayhurst, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said he was trained from the start of his career that such warnings were against the law.

“It hampers your inspection,” Hayhurst said. “You don’t get to see the mine as it actually is when you are not there.”
Hayhurst took the stand this morning as the criminal trial of ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship entered its 18th day of testimony.

Defense lawyers were not allowed — as they had requested Friday — to re-cross examine Blanchard, but U.S. District Judge Irene Berger did not publicly explain her reason for that decision, or even mention in the jury’s presence that she had ruled on the matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McVey called Hayhurst to counter earlier testimony by Blanchard that an MSHA inspector, later identified as Hayhurst, had told him that inspections start when inspectors arrive on mine property, so that guards or dispatchers calling underground to alert miners was not against the law.

The charges against Blankenship include conspiracy to hinder MSHA by providing advance notice of inspections.

Today Hayhurst first testified that inspections start when inspectors arrive on mine property, but then said they start when inspectors review a mine file while still in their MSHA offices.

During cross-examination, defense lawyer Blair Brown noted that MSHA has admitted that prior to 2011, after advance notice at UBB became an issue following the April 2010 mine disaster, agency officials did not provide clear guidance about what behavior constitutes illegal advance notice. Berger did not allow either side to question Hayhurst about a 2002 court ruling that concluded advance notice involves any sort of warning “given before MSHA inspectors reach a particular mine face in order to inspect that mine.”

Hayhurst insisted today that the conversation Blanchard described never occurred.

“I don’t recall a conversation like that and I don’t think I would have told him wrong,” Hayhurst said.

Defense wants to strike violation comparison

Earns Massey

There’s another new filing today in the criminal trial of Don Blankenship. Defense attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Irene Berger to strike from the case Government’s Exhibit 83, which is an email in which Massey safety official Elizabeth Chamberlin was sending Blankenship a comparison of Massey’s safety record to a variety of other coal companies.

In its new motion, the defense says:

The total number of citations and orders issued to all Massey mines and facilities regulated by MSHA and how they compare to the number of citations and orders issued to other companies is not relevant to any count of the indictment.

Count One of the indictment is expressly limited to conduct at the UBB mine and does not concern any other Massey or non-Massey coal mine or facility.

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Defense lawyers for Don Blankenship have filed a response to the government’s continued effort to keep jurors in the former Massey CEO’s criminal trial from being shown a video of a Massey safety meeting.

In their new filing, Blankenship’s attorneys say:

Defendant Donald L. Blankenship respectfully opposes the motion of the United States to exclude portions of the video recording of the meeting at Scott High School on August 1, 2009. The grounds for excluding the excerpts are similar to those which the government urged to exclude the larger tape of the four-and-a-half hour meeting. The government argued that the tape of the meeting was inadmissible because it contained hearsay and was puffery, among other reasons. As an initial matter, the excerpts are directives (i.e., directions to the mine management at Upper Big Branch and Massey’s other mines) to eliminate hazards and to cease production to do so and, therefore, do not constitute hearsay, as they are not assertions offered for the truth of the matter asserted. Additionally, the hearsay rule no more precludes the video than it does testimony of what people did and said at the meeting. The fact of the meeting and the things said there are material to Mr. Blankenship’s defense. Evidence which shows intent, motive, or state of mind, as all of it does, is not hearsay.

Also:

The argument that the meeting is puffery or that it was staged, while neither of which is true, go only to the weight, not the admissibility of the video. Indeed, while the government has repeatedly attempted to characterize the Hazard Elimination Program Kick-Off Meeting as a sham – argument that by its very nature opens the door to allowing the jury to actually see what occurred at the meeting – the jury must be allowed to see the evidence that contradicts that assertion and to weigh the evidence itself to decide whether the “puffery” and “opinions” actually represent the true intent, motive, and state of mind behind the Hazard Elimination Program efforts.

R. Booth Goodwin II

With no trial proceedings today, attorneys in the Don Blankenship criminal case are still busy. Yesterday evening, government prosecutors filed two new legal briefs: One aimed at continuing to keep the jury from seeing a video of  Massey Energy safety meeting, and another that argues against allowing defense lawyers another shot at questioning former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard.

On the issue of the video, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger previously blocked the defense from using footage of a 2009 meeting at Scott High School where Massey kicked off what defense attorneys are touting as a major new safety initiative.  Defense lawyers have edited the video, trying to remove portions that Judge Berger said were not admissible as evidence in the case. Still, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel Wohl says the edited version also shouldn’t be allowed:

The fragmented clips of five different Massey executives (Chris Adkins, Mike Snelling, Keith Hainer, Jason Whitehead, and Elizabeth Chamberlin) are objectionable for the same reasons the earlier video was held inadmissible. The out-of-court statements are general puffery and opinion being offered for their truth. They are part of a scripted, videotaped, exculpatory presentation orchestrated by a company conscious of the value of generating helpful evidence in the event of future litigation. The danger of the statements being considered for an improper purpose outweighs what little probative value, if any, they hold.

Continue reading…

Friday evening update: Will Blanchard be back?

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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.

 

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Chris Blanchard, right, leaves the federal courthouse at lunchtime on Friday with another of his attorneys, Ben Bailey. Photo by Joel Ebert.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby kept up his re-direct examination of Chris Blanchard, the former Performance Coal Co. president, this morning, as the 17th day of testimony continued in the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

To counteract cross-examination testimony in which Blanchard helped the defense to minimize the seriousness of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration citations at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, Ruby continued to question Blanchard about individual citations for violations of federal standards meant to control accumulations of combustible materials, maintain proper mine ventilation, and control mine roofs.

With each citation, Ruby would have Blanchard read that likelihood of an injury resulting from the violation — often “reasonably” or “highly” — and then read for jurors what kind of injury could result. In several instances, the answer was, “fatal.”

Ruby also sought to respond to efforts by the defense to beat the drum about its allegation that MSHA forced a ventilation plan on the Upper Big Branch Mine that Massey didn’t believe could possibly work. Ruby used his questioning of Blanchard to emphasize that federal rules about the use of “belt air” had changed in 2008, following the deaths of two miners in a Massey operation that was using belt air ventilation.

But jurors didn’t really hear much about Aracoma. When Ruby started to ask Blanchard about it, defense lawyer Bill Taylor objected.  After a private conference with U.S. District Judge Irene Berger, Ruby prefaced his questions about the matter by asking Blanchard not to talk about the specifics of Aracoma — saying only that “a safety incident … occurred there in 2006.”

Court resumes at 1:30 p.m. And a reminder: Judge Berger has said there will be no court session on Monday.

Prosecutors in the Don Blankenship case this morning continued their re-direct examination of former Performance Coal Company head Chris Blanchard.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby resumed questioning Blanchard about citation after citation issued to Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, mostly for allowing the buildup of combustible materials such as spilled coal and coal dust.
Ruby was trying to respond to defense arguments that violations at UBB were relatively minor, or even bizarre, such as for having a propane grill on the mine parking lot.
Ruby had Blanchard explain to jurors the particular hazard associated with “float” coal dust, and its ability to propagate explosions.
“It means to allow an explosion to continue, to allow it to grow,” Blanchard testified. “The force will travel faster than the front of the flame. That force will lift dust into the air, and allow the explosion to continue if that dust provided additional fuel for the explosion.”

Federal prosecutors this afternoon continued a tough redirect examination of former Performance Coal Company president Chris Blanchard.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby had Blanchard read aloud from a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – previously entered into evidence – which showed Massey reported more than $50 million in profits in 2008.

“Was it enough?” Ruby asked.

“Enough what?” Blanchard answered.

“Enough profit,” Ruby said.

“It was profit, sir. I can’t answer that question,” Blanchard said.

Ruby had Blanchard read from another SEC filing that showed Massey reported more than $100 million in profits in 2009. Again, Ruby asked Blanchard, “Was that enough profit?”

“Again, sir, I can’t answer that question,” Blanchard said.

Ruby asked Blanchard if Massey’s level of profits provided any reason to commit preventable violations of safety laws.
Blanchard responded, “No, sir.”

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Former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard leaves the federal courthouse for a lunch break, just after Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby began his re-direct examination of Blanchard in the Don Blankenship criminal trial. With him is his attorney, Isaac Forman. Photo by Joel Ebert.

After having to sit and watch for days as defense lawyers made one of their major witnesses sound like a spokesman for Don Blankenship, federal prosecutors late this morning finally got another crack at former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard, as the Blankenship trial moved to another important phase.

From the moment he began re-direct examination of Blanchard just before lunch today, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby went after Blanchard with rapid-fire questions, starting off by asking Blanchard — whose testimony under cross-examination answers helped defense lawyers make numerous key points to the jury — if he understood what perjury is. Blanchard said he did.

Ruby continued, with a string of questions about what Blanchard had testified when he appeared before the federal grand jury that eventually indicted Blankenship last November:

Did Blanchard recall telling the grand jury that there was an understanding at Massey that it was cheaper to pay safety fines that spend the money to prevent violations? Did he remember telling grand jurors that Blankenship participated in and fostered that understanding? Didn’t he testify that Blankenship told him that fines were just part of the cost of doing business? How about when he said that Blankenship constantly pressed him for more coal production? Or when he testified he rarely heard anything from Blankenship about the high number of safety fines UBB was receiving?

Blanchard asked Ruby for a copy of the transcript of his grand jury testimony, and he read his original answers back when Ruby gave him the page numbers for the questions. Each time, Ruby would ask him if his answers to the grand jury was truthful. Blanchard said they were.

Ruby continued his questions, asking Blanchard about his testimony on cross-examination that he had never broken the law, and reminded Blanchard that his was the president of a a coal company that was cited for hundreds of violations a year at Upper Big Branch. Blanchard agreed that he had previously testified — before defense lawyers started questioning him — that the majority of those violations could have been prevented.

Ruby continues his re-direct questioning of Blanchard when court resumes at 1:20 p.m.

Don Blankenship’s defense team this morning began laying the groundwork for an effort to turn another prosecution witness against the government.

Lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor started questioning Chris Blanchard about the role that former Massey Energy official Bill Ross played in proposing the continued use of belt air – air brought in through the mine’s conveyer belt tunnel – to ventilate the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Blanchard testified about an email that Ross wrote in which he worried that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration would not approve the belt air plan.

Defense lawyers have tried to convince jurors that ventilation violations at the UBB mine were at least partly caused by an MSHA demand that the mine stop using belt air.

Ross is expected to be a major prosecution witness with testimony about his warnings to Blankenship regarding safety problems at UBB and other Massey mines.

Former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard began his sixth day on the witness stand this morning in the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Defense lawyer Bill Taylor, who has been cross-examining Blanchard since last Friday, finished up a series of questions about coal production and staffing levels at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

Blanchard told jurors that UBB had 251 employees as of March 2010, more than Massey’s budgeted staffing of 226, even after cutbacks jurors heard about during direct testimony by Blanchard and Blanchard’s former assistant Lisa Williams.

Blanchard testified that “any hires” at UBB would’ve had to have Blankenship’s personal approval.

Blanchard also testified about an email he sent in November 2009 to set up a daily morning phone call with his mine managers. Among the topics for discussion each day were safety and violations.

“That’s the single most important job any of them have,” Blanchard said. “We were trying to reduce and eliminate our violations by eliminating hazards.”

As he continued his cross-examination, Taylor this morning returned to the question of whether violations at UBB were caused by a new ventilation plan “imposed” on the mine by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration – a topic federal prosecutors have sought the jury from hearing about and about which U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has previously ruled with the government.

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Former Performance Coal Co. President Chris Blanchard, left, leaves the federal courthouse Wednesday with his attorney, Isaac Forman from the Charleston-based firm Bailey and Glasser.

No, you haven’t read the headlines wrong … Chris Blanchard is still on the stand in the Don Blankenship trial. Cross-examination is scheduled to resume when the jury comes back at 9 a.m. today.

Look for Blanchard to be on the stand for a while longer, even after Blankenship defense lawyer Bill Taylor completes his cross-examination.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby is going to have to spend a fair amount of time trying to “rehabilitate” one of the government’s much-anticipated witnesses in this landmark trial.

For example, Blanchard has helped defense lawyers make the violations issued at Upper Big Branch by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration seem trivial — things like having a propane grill in the mine parking lot. Ruby will have to try to walk that all back, to convince jurors that the safety problems at UBB were more significant.

The following is from Joel Ebert, who is covering the Don Blankenship trial with Ken Ward Jr.

As the Don Blankenship trial continues, we’ve been working to create a one-stop of sorts for everything related to the case with our website – http://www.wvgazettemail.com/blankenship

Today, we’re adding a new element to the website that will allow you to search through the hundreds of exhibits the government and the defense have introduced during the course of the trial.

Under the resources section of the website, you can now find a section titled “Search All Exhibits.” It is powered by Document Cloud, an amazing tool for journalists that allows us to keep material organized in a very simple way.

Although I’m still working to add the government’s exhibits, with the latest tool you will be able to simply search a key word, like “Chris Blanchard” or “Upper Big Branch” and any documents containing those keywords will be displayed.

As usual, I will continue to update the exhibits introduced by the government and the defense each day, so the database will continue to grow.

If you have any suggestions on ways to improve the website, don’t hesitate to email me – joel.ebert@dailymailwv.com

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship had multiple individuals and an in house team inspecting mines looking for safety problems, the federal jury in Blankenship’s criminal trial heard this afternoon.

Chris Blanchard, president of Massey’s Performance Coal Co. subsidiary, testified about the various safety audits, as Blankenship’s defense team continued its fourth day cross-examining Blanchard.

Bill Taylor, the lead defense lawyer, listed the audit contributors: Gary Frampton, Massey’s chief compliance officer; Linton Stump, a conveyer belt expert who reported to Blankenship; and Massey’s own in house mine rescue teams and former federal inspector turned industry consultant Joe Pavlovich.

Blanchard agreed when Taylor asked him, “These people don’t work for free?”

And again when Taylor asked Blanchard, “The company is spending money to have mines inspected by people with some expertise in what they are doing.”

Using numbers pulled from thick binders of Massey’s budget documents – and a calculator Taylor provided him – Blanchard added up the total 2008 coal production for various sections at Upper Big Branch.

The production turned out to be about half of what Massey had projected. Taylor wrote the numbers on a large chart displayed for the jury.

He asked Blanchard if he was fired. Blanchard said no. He asked if he was disciplined in any way when UBB didn’t meet its projections. Again Blanchard said no.