CHARLESTON – Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's lawsuits have filed a petition seeking for a judge outside of the Southern District of West Virginia to preside over his criminal case.
"The issue is whether it is clear that an ordinary person from outside the legal system might reasonably question the impartiality of the four available judges of the Southern District of West Virginia to preside in this case when the judge must hear and decide whether the son of another judge on that court has committed serious professional misconduct and determine the consequences of such a finding on this prosecution," the May 18 petition states.
Blankenship moved for an order disqualifying the trial judge assigned to the case, Judge Irene C. Berger, and the other judges of the Southern District of West Virginia because they would have to address two pretrial motions demonstrating serious misconduct by U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II, the son of Southern District of West Virginia Judge Joseph R. Goodwin.
"None of the four eligible judges in the Southern District ... should decide whether the son of a fellow judge has behaved unprofessionally and has denied the constitutional rights of a defendant, or decide the scope of potentially embarrassing discovery appropriate to a resolution of those questions," the motion states.
Blankenship argues that a reasonable observer might doubt their impartiality because a finding that Booth Goodwin is guilty of personal misconduct and a dismissal of the case would be personally, professionally and politically embarrassing for Joseph Goodwin's son and therefore, to the judge himself.
"Judges are not, and are not expected to be, unfeeling machines," the petition states. "An ordinary person not only might, but would, reasonably question the impartiality of Judge Goodwin's Southern District colleagues in deciding substantive and discovery issues regarding misconduct on the part of Judge Goodwin's son."
Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety standards at Upper Big Branch, a former Massey mine in West Virginia where an explosion killed 29 men in 2010.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 5:14-cr-00244