W.Va. SC says no to rehearing e-mail case

John O'Brien Jan. 21, 2010, 11:15am


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - The West Virginia Supreme Court has refused to rehear a case involving the privacy of a former justice's e-mails and postponed a decision on a controversial $50 million case.

By a 4-1 vote, the justices decided to let stand a ruling that a circuit court judge erred by releasing several e-mails former Justice Spike Maynard sent to his friend, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Only Justice Margaret Workman voted to rehear the case. She was also the lone dissenter in the case.

"None of the e-mail's contents involved the official duties, responsibilities or obligations of Justice Maynard as a duly elected member of this Court," Justice Robin Davis wrote in the majority's opinion.

The justices delayed a decision on Harman Mining's motion to rehear its $50 million case, which was overturned three times by the Supreme Court, court spokesperson Jennifer Bundy said.

In the public records case, The Associated Press had requested 13 e-mails sent from Maynard to Blankenship, who has had high-dollar cases before the court.

At a hearing in June 2008, Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom ordered Canterbury to produce 13 e-mails so Bloom could read them in chambers.

Bloom read them and declared five public, finding they involved Maynard's campaign for re-election.

He declared eight private and wrote, "In no way do these e-mails contain information related to the affairs of government, Justice Maynard's official acts as a state officer, or the conduct of the public's business."

Both sides appealed, with AP seeking all 13 and Canterbury opposing any release.

Maynard didn't win another term, but Canterbury won the e-mail dispute.

Davis wrote that "none of the 13 e-mails at issue herein constituted a public record" under the freedom of information act.

She wrote that in 12, Maynard simply provided links to news in the public domain. The 13th provided Blankenship with an agenda for a private meeting, she wrote.

The rehearing conference was Jan. 14. The Harman case was supposed to be discussed.

Harman Mining owner Hugh Caperton filed a motion in December asking the court reverse its 4-1 decision that overturned a $50 million Boone County verdict in his favor. The case made national news when Caperton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Justice Brent Benjamin should not be allowed to hear it.

A 3-2 decision in 2007 in favor of Massey overturned the verdict before Caperton complained about the relationship between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and then-Justice Spike Maynard. The two had been photographed together in Monaco, where they claim they had been vacationing separately at the same time.

In March 2008, the justices (minus Maynard) again voted 3-2 in favor of Massey, and Caperton complained that Benjamin shouldn't have participated because Blankenship spent millions of dollars supporting his 2004 campaign.

The issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court in March, and it ruled in a 5-4 vote that Benjamin should have recused himself, setting the stage for a third decision.

That decision, like the other two, focused on a forum-selection clause in a coal supply contract between the two parties. It said all disputes arising from the contract must be brought in a county in Virginia.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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