Starcher

Canterbury

CHARLESTON – State Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher on Monday asked a court official to preserve any evidence regarding Chief Justice Spike Maynard's relationship with Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

In a memo to Court Administator Steve Canterbury, Starcher asked that he make sure no documents are destroyed and that records "on servers or otherwise, of any document or digital photographs be altered, removed or erased."

On Tuesday, Canterbury said standing court policy would ensure that would be the case.

"We wouldn't do that," Canterbury said of the possibility of records and documents being mishandled.

The memo stems from a recent pair of motions filed by Hugh Caperton, the owner of Harman Mining Corp., a now-bankrupt coal company Harman first filed a motion Jan. 7 questioning the relationship between Maynard and Blankenship.

On Tuesday, Maynard responded, calling suggestions that his friendship with Blankenship influenced his court opinions "nonsense."

Starcher has a history with Massey and Blankenship.

* After November's 3-2 ruling in favor of Massey's appeal in the Harman case, Starcher wrote a dissent that included the phrase "horse puckey."

"Let's not forget why the jury's verdict was justified: the jurors looked Mr. Blankenship in the eye and concluded that he was lying, and that Mr. Caperton was telling the truth," Starcher wrote. "The majority opinion says: 'That doesn't matter' -- it all should have been handled in Virginia. To which argument, one must respond: 'Horse puckey!'"

Starcher called his colleagues' decision both morally and legally wrong.

"Now three members of this Court have ruled that even though it is a fact that Don Blankenship illegally took over $60 million dollars from Hugh Caperton -- he can get away with it scot-free. Talk about crime in the suites!" he wrote.

In the dissent, he mentioned his longtime quarrel with Blankenship.

"It has been amusing for me to see Mr. Blankenship trying with all his might to create the circumstances where I would be forced to step aside and let him have in toto the kind of Court he wants," Starcher wrote. "For example, he has said he will be 'targeting' me in the next election if I run. Fortunately, the public can see through this kind of transparent foolishness, just as a West Virginia jury saw through his lies in court."

Last month, Starcher announced he would not seek re-election this fall.

* On Jan. 3, 2003, the State Journal reported that Starcher told a group of high school students visiting the state Capitol on Dec. 3, 2002, that coal companies were not good for the state because "they reap benefits without contributing anything in return." The complaint also states that Starcher singled out Massey in that criticism.

* Starcher criticized Massey in a public radio interview after the November 2004 election that saw Brent Benjamin -- a Republican candidate personally supported by Massey CEO Don Blankenship -- defeat incumbent Justice Warren McGraw for a seat on the Court.

"What we're going to see is we're gonna see Massey Coal and the big out-of-state insurance companies and huge mega-corporations buy a seat on our Supreme Court, and I'll be very sad to sit on the Supreme Court for the next four years, quite frankly," the complaint quotes Starcher's radio interview. "I hate to see out-of-state money be used in such an obscene way as it was in this race to buy a seat on the Supreme Court and attempt to control it. It saddens me very much."

* Before the election, Starcher also said that if Benjamin defeated McGraw, "Don Blankenship and the Massey Coal Company will own the West Virginia Supreme Court."

* At the 2005 annual conference of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Starcher again spoke of Blankenship, Massey and the 2004 election.

"Justice McGraw was not opposed in the general election by some neophyte lawyer named Brent Benjamin," Starcher is quoted as saying. "He was opposed by a Richmond, Va., resident named Don Blankenship, who poked $4 million into defeating Justice Warren McGraw in (the) Supreme Court. Nobody ever heard of Brent Benjamin … and he practiced law in Charleston for 20 years, I believe.

"So, really, the election was bought, a seat was purchased on our Supreme Court, and I'm highly offended by it. I'm highly offended by the obscene use of out-of-state money …

"They tried to purchase a seat on our Supreme Court, and they succeeded. Coincidentally, Massey Coal, which Don Blankenship is a CEO, has a $60 million case on appeal in our court at this time. He has also -- his coal company -- has more EPA violations than all other coal companies put together in West Virginia. He has a very special interest in owning a seat on the Supreme Court."

* On Oct. 26, 2005, Starcher was quoted in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph newspaper about Blankenship's participation in the political process.

"I think he has no real concern or interest in the betterment of West Virginia," Starcher told the paper. "I think he's simply on an egomaniac trip and is trying to better the bottom line of his coal company."

* The next day Starcher sent Blankenship a note in the mail that seemed to be in his own handwriting.

"Dear Mr. Blankenship," the note on Supreme Court stationery began. "Some reading information to help you 'keep the record straight.'"

It was signed by Starcher with the post script, "I paid the postage."

Attached was a copy of Starcher's curriculum vitae, a document written by Starcher entitled "an abbreviated autobiography" and a document containing Starcher's career biography, including a picture of Starcher.

The picture was autographed, "Best wishes to a 'fine West Virginian' ----- L. Starcher 10/27/05."

* The following day, Starcher spoke at the annual West Virginia Political Science Association meeting. He spoke to a local television reporter about Blankenship.

"I think he's a clown, and he's an outsider, and he's running around this state trying to buy influence like buying candy for children. And, I think it's disgusting. …

"He's stupid. He doesn't know what he's talking about … I'm certainly not afraid of him."

* Three days later, on Halloween 2005, Marfork renewed it disqualification of Starcher. He denied the motion without explanation.

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