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More Evidence of Massey Energy's Dirty Past

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Six years ago, the company's CEO was involved in a corporate political scandal so juicy it was turned into a Grisham novel.

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In the aftermath of the tragic explosion at Massey Energy's (MEE) Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, many have been focused on the company's less-than-stellar safety record -- 124 citations and orders in 2010 alone, and 3,011 through 2009.

What hasn't gotten much attention is how Massey has gotten away with it for so long.

Attorney Brett Emison, of Lexington, Missouri's Langdon & Emison calls Massey's recent history "a story great novels are made of," and, in fact, it truly is. Massey CEO Don Blankenship's successful attempt to "buy" a West Virginia Supreme Court judge was the basis for John Grisham's 2008 legal thriller, The Appeal.

In 2002, a West Virginia jury awarded the now-defunct Harman Coal $50 million after finding Massey liable for "fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference" related to a canceled coal-delivery contract that put Harman out of business.

Massey appealed the ruling.

Two years later, the case was headed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. While waiting for the case to be heard, West Virginia's judicial elections were underway, and a lawyer named Brent Benjamin was running against incumbent justice Warren McGraw, whom Blankenship considered anti-business and believed would uphold the lower court's ruling against Massey.

Blankenship formed a group called "And for the Sake of the Kids," which raised $3 million for Benjamin's campaign -- more money than any other group, including Benjamin's own campaign committee -- and proceeded to paint McGraw as a radical, liberal liar who was soft on crime.



Surprise! McGraw was defeated and the new Justice Benjamin -- now West Virginia's chief justice -- twice cast the deciding vote to throw out the judgment that had awarded $50 million to Harman Coal, after refusing to recuse himself from the case, as requested by Harman's President Hugh Caperton. (In a related note, Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, who was also on the panel hearing the case, recused himself after photographs of him and Blankenship vacationing together in the French Riviera were made public.)
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