Business owner was anti-Benjamin from the start

John O'Brien Jan. 24, 2008, 10:20am


CHARLESTON, W. Va. - This isn't the first time Hugh Caperton has wanted to prevent Brent Benjamin from taking a seat on the bench at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Caperton, the owner of a now-bankrupt coal company, donated $10,000 in 2004 to non-profit political organization West Virginia Consumers for Justice. The group, funded largely by trial lawyers, spent approximately $1.5 million in support of Benjamin's opponent, Warren McGraw.

Recently, Caperton asked the Court to have Benjamin recuse himself from his case against Massey Energy because Massey CEO Don Blankenship donated millions of dollars to Benjamin's campaign. Benjamin and two others voted to strike down a $60 million Boone County verdict in a coal contract dispute between Caperton's Harman Mining and Massey.

Because the contract had a forum-selection clause, Benjamin, Spike Maynard (who has since recused himself amid questioning of his personal relationship with Blankenship) and Robin Davis ruled in favor of Massey.

Also contributing to West Virginia Consumers for Justice were Caperton's attorneys. Pittsburgh firm Buchanan Ingersoll gave $15,000, and Bruce Stanley of Reid-Smith in Pittsburgh gave $5,000.

Blankenship sued the group because he said it defamed him in the commercials it paid for. He asked for $300 million in damages from it and a handful of other defendants.

Instead, the two settled out of court and West Virginia Consumers for Justice issued an apology.

"In Oct. 2004 during the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals election campaign, West Virginia Consumers for Justice published an advertisement that contained two inaccuracies," said the apology, authored by chairman Kenneth Perdue

"First, Massey Energy Co. was not 'convicted of contaminating West Virginia's drinking water' as we stated in our advertisement. Second, we understand that Massey did not 'terminate the health care benefits, collective bargaining and job rights' of the workers in Horizon's mines that were acquired by Massey in 2004."

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