Maynard recuses again, provides vacation documentation

Chris Dickerson Jan. 30, 2008, 3:22pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. - While recusing himself from another case involving Massey Energy, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Spike Maynard also has provided documentation showing he paid for his trip to France in 2006.

On Jan. 29, Maynard recused himself from a case involving Massey Energy and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

Maynard's friendship with Massey CEO Don Blankenship has been the source of much debate of late, especially after vacation photos showed the pair together in Monaco in 2006.

Wheeling-Pitt sought Maynard's disqualification as it prepares to defend the $240 million judgment it won from Massey in a Boone County civil case. Massey had petitioned to appeal the July verdict last week, and Wheeling-Pitt sought Maynard's recusal Tuesday. He stepped aside later in the day.

Last week Maynard withdrew from a separate coal contract dispute involving a $76.3 million judgment against Massey. The Court later agreed to rehear the appeal in that case.

On Monday, Maynard's re-election campaign provided credit card reports to show he bought a pair of $2,077 plane tickets and a $1,393 travel package from for his trip to Nice, France, in July 2006.

Blankenship, his longtime friend, was on vacation in the Riviera at the same time, both have said.

"I paid my own way, paid for my travel expenses, paid my own hotel expenses out of my own pocket," Maynard said in a Jan. 15 press release that was issued after the photos surfaced. "I have receipts and records to prove it."

Harman Mining and President Hugh Caperton won a 2002 civil trial against Massey Energy in Boone County. Harman sought Maynard's recusal before petitioning the court to reconsider its November reversal of the verdict. The vacations in the Riviera came more than a year after Massey announced it was appealing the Boone County verdict.

In a unanimous vote last week, the Court decided to reconsider its ruling in the controversial case.

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

Harman Mining won $60 million from Massey Energy in a Boone County jury verdict, but the 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.

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 were 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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