While we wait for the jury in the Don Blankenship case to reach a verdict, it might be interesting to review some of the major points that both sides made in presenting their closing arguments to those jurors.
For example, lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor rattled off a list of examples of what he told jurors should raise a “reasonable doubt” about whether Blankenship is guilty. Here are those examples, mostly from memos entered into evidence in the case, that Taylor said raise reasonable doubt about whether Blankenship intended for Massey to violate safety laws:
— July 25, 2008, from Don Blankenship to Chris Adkins. “It’s important that we make sure we are recognizing the new MSHA rules and designing our mine plans to be efficient within those rules rather than mining and setting up the sections the way we used to and complaining that MSHA won’t do what they won’t let us do.”
— This is a memo from Elizabeth Chamberlin to other people in which she says, “Effective immediately individual mine safety meetings are to include a review of citations and orders, should focus on the reduction of orders and S&S violations and address individual accountability.” He writes on it, “Elizabeth, thanks. Don.”
— Elizabeth Chamberlin to Mr. Blankenship, August 10, 2008. “I intend to make changes in the management of the Marfork/Performance safety program shortly.” Mr. Blankenship writes back and you can see in the bold at the bottom. “We need to improve. So whatever is necessary needs to be done. However, these issues seem to go from group to group. Be fair with safety people when they’re having a bad run. Again, do what you and Chris agree is best.”
— Don Blankenship to group presidents, January 19, 2009. “I am aware that MSHA has changed their rates and tightened up their inspections, but I had no idea we were not dealing with the issue in our day-to-day operations. It seems that we perhaps have turned this into a legal dispute as opposed to dealing with it at the mines. Everyone should drop what you are doing and figure out what your violation circumstances are. Obviously, what we are doing now is not going to work.”
— These are handwritten notes that Mr. Blankenship writes on a message that he gets about citations in the spring of 2009. In his own typical style, “The only thing more frightening to our future than the regulators is us. I am very, very disappointed that you all don’t step up on your relative pieces of this. Learn to fish.” And then he writes to John Poma, Chris Adkins, and Mark Clemens. “I remain frustrated that those who should measure, manage, and eliminate violations will not provide executive-level communication. This is not about multi-page, detailed, shaded, microscopic reports to me. It’s about executive management of a new and frightening challenge.”
— March 20, 2009, Blankenship to Adkins further on violations. “This memo is just thoughts about how we could deal with it. The essence of it is that our mines have to be better managed and that we have to elevate the level of concern from the superintendents down through the mine foremen, fire bosses, and back up to and including the group presidents with violation reduction,” and so forth, “to fill out whether we should have a team of inspectors. As you can see in this memo, I’m just brainstorming in an effort to help you get your thoughts together. Let’s not get bureaucratic, but let’s get effective and primarily let’s do it yesterday.”
— Don to group presidents relating to respirable dust violations: “Group presidents, you have to develop a plan to deal with this and other problems. Have processes, meetings, learn from Massey Coal Services processes. Do your jobs.”
— This is the memo that is written to Mr. Blankenship about the Hazard Elimination committee, its formation and its kick-off, and its goals. It’s written by Chris Adkins. And Paragraph Number 4 which we’ve blown up here is the one I wanted you to look at. And at the bottom he’s telling Mr. Blankenship who’s going to be in charge of what. And then he says, “Each will mark where we are now and submit as to how we are going to reduce the violations within their area by 20 percent.” And somebody strikes through “20 percent” and writes “50 percent by year end versus first half run rate.”
Do you know who that person was? It was Donald Blankenship.