The judge has personal opinions.

That's one less-than-momentous conclusion to make in the most recent chapter of West Virginia's tumultuous judicial drama, "Our State Supreme Court."

This week, the public got to peer at the e-mail inbox of soon-to-be-former Justice Spike Maynard.

It wasn't a Sarah Palin-esque hacker, but Kanawha County Judge Duke Bloom facilitating that peek. Bloom ordered a handful of Maynard's missives released to the public in response to an Associated Press (AP) Freedom-of-Information request.

We applaud the judge's decision, and we hope that someday, he'll apply the same principles to Maynard's colleagues on the court as well. Last spring, we asked for copies of some of their e-mails, and we're still awaiting a decision.

This batch of e-mails -- all sent to Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship -- didn't include a "smoking gun" as was hoped by some local media hostile to his conservative judicial philosophy and gleeful to see him leave the bench. Rather, the e-mails revealed Maynard to be aware, interested, and opinionated on subjects political just like the rest of us.

Now we know Maynard reads about himself in news accounts. And indeed, Maynard didn't like the aggressive marketing style of one of his challengers, a personal injury lawyer. In one e-mail, Maynard comments that the web site of Menis Ketchum's Huntington law firm is "unbelievable" in its perceived pandering.

"This one you gotta see -- Aracoma is mentioned -- you could have prevented it if you had only operated the mine properly according to Menis," wrote Maynard to Blankenship, whose company owns the Aracoma mine in Logan County.

If you peruse Ketchum's web site for yourselves -- see it at www.greeneketchum.com -- it isn't hard to understand Maynard's comments.

"Coal mining is one of the world's most dangerous occupations," reads a hard pitch by Ketchum's firm to prospective plaintiffs. "Yet, it took mine disasters at Sago, Maverick and Aracoma to remind people in West Virginia, Kentucky and around the world of the inherent dangers coal miners face. Such disasters are not necessary and can be prevented if coal mine companies, machinery and equipment manufacturers and contractors are held accountable for failing to implement, practice and enforce coal mine safety."

Such rhetoric, emblazoned with an 800 number, could be viewed as a form of online ambulance chasing. It begs the question -- how did a guy who approves of unprofessional, promotional puffery like that get so close to a spot on our state's highest court?

It is a question worth asking with Election Day on the near horizon.

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