Feds reportedly look into Maynard controversy

John O'Brien Mar. 20, 2008, 10:44am




CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Federal investigators were apparently sniffing around the West Virginia Supreme Court while the Justices were preparing to hear a high-profile case for a second time.

Agents of both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office in Charleston interviewed at least one justice, Larry Starcher, about an appeal by Massey Energy that the Court sided with in November, overturning a $76 million judgment, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette.

It adds that the investigation is geared around the relationship between Chief Justice Spike Maynard and Massey CEO Don Blankenship. The two are longtime friends and were photographed vacationing in Monaco before Massey's appeal was heard.

Maynard told the Gazette he has not spoken with federal investigators. He has offered documentation that he paid for his trip himself, claiming that it was merely a coincidence that the two were vacationing at the same place at the same time.

Meanwhile, Harman Mining Co. owner Hugh Caperton asked for a new hearing on his case, one without Maynard. Maynard has recused himself from a couple of other Massey cases, too.

Maynard was part of the majority in November's 3-2 ruling that overturned a $60 million Boone County verdict for Harman Mining Co. against Massey. With interest, the figure had increased to $76 million, but three of the justices determined that a forum-selection clause in the disputed coal contract required any actions to be brought in a county in Virginia.

Shortly after, Caperton produced the photographs of Blankenship and current Maynard together in Monaco. The justices unanimously decided to hear Harman's case again, and Starcher also recused himself.

Starcher has a long history with Blankenship, referring to him publicly as "stupid" and "a clown." Mostly he is upset with the amount of money Blankenship spent in 2004 trying to unseat Warren McGraw.

Blankenship spent more than $3 million in support of Brent Benjamin's campaign. Starcher called on Blankenship to also recuse himself from the case because of this, but Blankenship did not. Instead, he used his role as acting Chief Justice to bring in judges from Hampshire and Marion counties, miles away from the coal fields of the southern part of the state.

The new hearing was held March 12.

Maynard also recused himself from Massey's appeal of a $240 million Brooke County verdict in favor of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and Mountain State Carbon. He recused himself from another case that's appeal has yet to be accepted.

Maynard is up for re-election this year.

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