United Mine Workers' president blasts Alabama AG

Chris Rizo Jan. 26, 2009, 12:02am

Cecil Roberts, Jr.

Troy King (R)

FAIRFAX, Va. (Legal Newsline)-An call by the Alabama attorney general to get his counterparts around the nation to oppose the appeal Hugh Caperton and Harman Mining have before the U.S. Supreme Court against Massey Energy has drawn the ire of the president of the United Mine Workers.

In a statement posted on the union's Web site, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts called Alabama Attorney General Troy King's effort to rally other attorneys general "an outrageous intrusion into the case."

Roberts said it "makes one wonder just what Mr. King is trying to do," when he asks other attorneys general to join him in filing an amicus brief opposing questions about the role West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin played in two 3-2 decisions that overturned a $50 million verdict against Massey Energy.

A Boone County jury awarded Caperton and Harman $50 million, finding that Massey had taken a long-term contract to sell metallurgical coal to LTV Steel in Pittsburgh. With interest, the judgment has grown to $82 million.

"Prior to his election to the West Virginia Supreme Court, Brent Benjamin was an unknown lawyer," Roberts wrote. "He received virtually all of his campaign funding from the head of a powerful corporation, Massey Energy."

Roberts was referring to Don Blankenship, president and CEO of Massey Energy. Blankenship pumped more than $3 million of his own money to help elect Benjamin, ousting incumbent Justice Warren McGraw in November 2004.

Roberts said once Benjamin was on the state's high court he was in a position to vote on matters that directly affected one if his biggest campaign contributors.

"No state justice or judge, sitting on any court in any state, should be able to rule on a case that impacts a major contributor to that judge's election campaign," Robert wrote. "That should be the law of the land, whether it be West Virginia, Alabama or anywhere else."

For his part, Attorney General King, a Republican, said the U.S. Supreme Court should not regulate state courts.

"Federalizing the issue is unnecessary because the states are currently handling the issue with their own rules and regulations," King said in a statement accompanying his plea.

King's call for signatories to an amicus brief was distributed by the National Association of Attorneys General, based in Washington.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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Alabama Attorney General
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U.S. Supreme Court
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