Court will rehear Massey case

John O'Brien Jan. 24, 2008, 3:00pm



CHARLESTON, W. Va. - In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided to reconsider their ruling in a controversial case.

Hampshire County Circuit Judge Donald Cookman took part in the vote, having been appointed to fill the spot left by the recused Chief Justice Spike Maynard. Arguments will be heard March 12.

Harman Mining won $60 million from Massey Energy in a Boone County jury verdict, but the High Court overturned the ruling in November because the disputed coal contract had a forum-selection clause that required any legal action be brought in Virginia.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship and Maynard were photographed in Monaco. The two claimed they decided to meet up when they found out they were vacationing in the same place. Blankenship also donated millions of dollars to Justice Brent Benjamin's campaign and has sued the Court in an attempt to disqualify Justice Larry Starcher from hearing any Massey cases because he publicly called Blankenship "stupid" and "a clown."

Benjamin and Starcher refused to recuse themselves from the case. Benjamin, Maynard and Justice Robin Davis made up the majority in the initial ruling, while Starcher and Justice Joseph Albright dissented.

In the order, Starcher said he would have preferred if the justices would have taken more time to decide on rehearing the case to sort out all the other issues it has created.

"I would have strongly preferred not to vote on the rehearing until we had discussed the matter further," said Starcher, who asked for an investigation into the relationship between Maynard and Blankenship and wrote to Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury to make sure the photos would not be lost or destroyed.

"If we had taken time and not decided the rehearing issue on this day, there would be absolutely no injury to any party. This case has been pending for several years, and a few more days or weeks will do no harm."

In fact, interest on the jury award pushed the amount owed to $76 million. Harman owner Hugh Caperton also claims Blankenship and Maynard met for a meal late last year while the case was pending.

"If we had taken time, matters relating to Court's prior decision in this case could be properly considered, including the effect of Justice Maynard's recent recusal," Starcher wrote. "If it was right for Justice Maynard to have recused himself and not voted in this case -- after the pictures filed in a recent motion were publicly revealed and he acknowledged contacts with litigant's CEO while this case was pending -- should his prior vote, while the pictures and contacts were a secret, have any effect at all? This issue remains unresolved."

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