High Court hopeful tells justices to step away from controversial case

John O'Brien Jan. 24, 2008, 10:48am


CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Bob Bastress, a professor at West Virginia University's law school, says the current justices at the state's Supreme Court of Appeals need to learn to stay out of the limelight.

Bastress addressed all the recent recusal issues the Court is going through Wednesday as he began his own campaign. Three justices have been asked to recuse themselves from a coal contract dispute between Harman Mining and Massey Energy.

A Boone County jury awarded Harman $60 million, but the Court overturned the verdict last year. Since then, Harman asked for reconsideration and provided photographs of Justice Spike Maynard in Monaco with Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Blankenship donated millions of dollars to Justice Brent Benjamin's 2004 campaign and asked that Justice Larry Starcher be disqualified from all Massey cases because Starcher has publicly called Blankenship "stupid" and "a clown."

According to a report by The Associated Press, Bastress, a Democrat, said the photos of Maynard and Blankenship show "we have a problem," and Maynard's contention that he has not done anything wrong shows that "we have an even bigger problem."

"I think that case is so big, and so big an object of public attention, that all three should step aside," Bastress said, according to the report.

In an interview last year, Bastress indicated that he would not create much noise if elected. He was asked about comments made by Starcher, who called an airline company's Pakistani counsel "window dressing" and an "argument prop" in a discrimination suit filed by a former Pakistani employee.

"Certainly, I think a justice, or a judge, or a judicial officer should avoid making comments which might indicate bias," Bastress said. "I'm not sure that Justice Starcher indicated bias as much as cynicism.

"The fewer comments a judge makes, the better."

Maynard and Starcher's seats will be up for grabs in the election. Maynard, a Democrat, has said he will seek re-election, while Starcher, also a Democrat, said he will not.

Four others have filed precandidacy papers -- three Democrats (Charleston attorney Mike Allen, Huntington attorney Menis Ketchum and former Justice Margaret Workman) and one Republican (Charleston attorney Beth Walker).

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