CHARLESTON – Gov. Joe Manchin says a group of plaintiffs lawyers should actually read his office's legal arguments before criticizing his contact with industrial giant DuPont.
Manchin defended himself Thursday against lawyers who claim he is siding with DuPont in a $382 million Harrison County case because he filed an amicus brief urging the state Supreme Court to review the $196 million punitive damages portion of the award.
Lawyers representing Spelter residents who allege the company is dumping lead, cadmium and arsenic at a zinc-smelting plant have asked the state Supreme Court to ignore Manchin's brief.
"Our brief is solely based on the issue of due process and whether or not our Supreme Court follows the same standards as established by the U.S. Supreme Court with regard to the right to appeal punitive damages," Manchin said.
"We did not take sides in the actual case in any way and want any citizen that has been adversely affected to get the benefits and compensation that they deserve."
After Manchin filed the brief in June, the plaintiffs' attorneys requested information regarding Manchin's contact with DuPont. The response showed Manchin met with DuPont officials before the brief, talked with the company's CEO in November after the Harrison County verdict and received briefs from DuPont on which the company hoped Manchin would sign his name.
Manchin's 12-page brief says West Virginia's Supreme Court must review the case, as it is "critical to the fair and rational imposition of punitive damages."
The Court recently decided not to hear the appeals of two other large cases, a $404 million verdict against Chesapeake Energy and NiSource and a $220 million verdict against Massey Energy.
"You can go and search forever, and you won't find a governor that mixes public policy with judicial review. If this type of argument is made, it is typically made by the attorney general's office," said lead plaintiffs lawyer Mike Papantonio, of Pensacola, Fla., firm Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor.
Papantonio says he will move to strike Manchin's brief.
"It's like mixing apples and oranges," he said.
DuPont responded by saying it was well within its rights to seek Manchin's help, and Manchin said the plaintiffs lawyers are missing the point. Manchin's executive secretary, Peggy Ong, has been a target of the attorneys because she formerly worked at DuPont.
"What is amazing to me is that while our brief is based solely on the legal principles of due process and the right of appeal, the trial lawyers' brief, led by several big out-of-state law firms, does not address that legal issue in any way and instead spends their time attacking my secretary – who has not been involved in one meeting on this issue and who does not deserve this kind of treatment," Manchin said.
"Shame on these trial lawyers for attacking this hard-working state employee and grandmother simply because I, as governor, dared to ask a legal question about due process."