Starcher sets oral arguments to help decide possible recusal

John O'Brien Mar. 20, 2008, 1:23pm



CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Concerning his ability to fairly decide on cases involving the businessman he has criticized, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher wants to publicly clear the air.

In response to a March 10 motion asking for his recusal, Starcher on Thursday said the issues involving Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and the Supreme Court have "become a matter of heightened public interest and concern" and will hear oral arguments regarding his recusal April 10.

"(T)here should be an opportunity for the judge whose recusal is being sought to hear oral presentation by the movants, through counsel, to properly evaluate the merits of the recusal request," the notice says. "Furthermore, counsel for the respondents should likewise be afforded the opportunity to be heard on the issue."

The controversy currently manifests itself in Massey's appeal of a $240 million Brooke County verdict in favor of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and Mountain State Carbon. Starcher, who has publicly called Blankenship "stupid" and "a clown," has recused himself in the appeal of a $76 million verdict against Massey.

Blankenship has sued the state Supreme Court in federal court in an effort to have Starcher removed from all his cases. Chief Justice Spike Maynard recused himself from all Massey cases after pictures surfaced of he and Blankenship together in Monaco. The two, longtime friends, said it was a mere coincidence they were vacationing at the same time and place.

In recusing himself from the $76 million case, Starcher urged fellow justice Brent Benjamin to do the same. Benjamin benefited from more than $3 million spent by Blankenship in a successful effort to get Warren McGraw off the court in 2004.

"(T)he pernicious effects of Mr. Blankenship's bestowal of his personal wealth and friendship have created a cancer in the affairs of this Court," Starcher wrote. "And I have seen that cancer grow and grow, in ways that I may not fully disclose at this time.

"At this point, I believe that my stepping aside in the instant case might be a step in treating that cancer -- but only if others as well rise to the challenge.

"If they do not, then I shudder to think of the cynicism and disgust that the lawyers, judges and citizens of this wonderful state will feel about our justice system."

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