Starcher wants probe into Maynard-Blankenship relationship

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 22, 2008




CHARLESTON – State Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher has asked for an independent probe into the relationship between Chief Justice Spike Maynard and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

In a memo Starcher sent Tuesday to state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury, Starcher said there are "extremely serious legal and ethical issues" about Maynard's relationship with Blankenship, and Starcher said other information has been relayed to him besides the pictures showing the pair together in Monaco in 2006.

"Without going into specifics, I will tell you that the as-yet undisclosed and/or presently unconfirmed information that has been related to me – both in conjunction with and wholly independent of the information that has been publicly confirmed – sets forth alleged conduct and circumstances that raise extremely serious legal and ethical issues as well as questions about the proper and legal administration of justice and this Court," Starcher wrote. "Additionally, the reported information raises questions about whether there have may have been actual rather than the appearance of impropriety. I also believe that some of the alleged matters raise issues that are within the jurisdiction of authorities other than those directly associated with this Court."

In November, Maynard was part of a 3-2 majority that overturned a $76.3 million 2002 Boone County judgment, which had been won by Harman Mining Co. and its president, Hugh Caperton. The jury found that Massey sent Harman and Caperton into bankruptcy.

Maynard recused himself Friday, but stressing that he had "no doubt in my own mind and firmly believe I have been and would be fair and impartial in this case."

In his memo, Starcher also says he has reason to believe some of the matters have been reported to senior Court staff.

"Rumors and reports about this matter are widely circulating among the Bar, the judiciary, this State's political leadership, the Internet, etc.," Starcher wrote to Canterbury. "Journalists are swarming over the matter. Members of your staff are likely material witnesses regarding the alleged conduct in question. The full truth must be learned and disclosed.

"As a constitutional officer, a public official, and the administrator of this Court, you clearly have the duty to see that this matter is properly, independently, and fully investigated, independent of the interests or wishes of any individual or group of justices – so that the full truth is ascertained, and that there is no perception of a 'cover-up.'

"You have a duty to see that all proper authorities are notified of any allegations within their jurisdiction, and to request and recommend that appropriate further actions are taken by this court acting as an administrative body. I know that you will be supported by every member of this Court in such a necessary effort."

Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said Canterbury has asked to have a meeting with the justices. She said Thursday that she didn't know if that meeting had been scheduled or if it already has taken place.

Last week, Harman also had asked that Justice Brent Benjamin remove himself from the case, citing the "unprecedented and massive" amounts of money Blankenship spent on the 2004 Supreme Court race to help elect Benjamin and defeat former Justice Warren McGraw.

Benjamin refused to do so. And as the next in line to be chief Justice, he selected Hampshire Circuit Judge Donald Cookman to replace Maynard in a rehearing conference concerning the case, which is scheduled for Thursday's docket. Harman and Caperton asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its reversal.

Last week, Maynard dismissed suggestions that he let his friendship with Blankenship influence his opinions.

"The suggestion I have done something improper is nonsense," Maynard said in a statement issued Jan. 15.

That was in response to a motion filed by Caperton the day before. That amended motion included nearly three dozen photographs showing Maynard and Blankenship in Monaco in July 2006.

Harman Mining started a 10-year metallurgical coal supply contract in 1992 with Wellmore Coal, which eventually was purchased, along with parent company United Coal, by Massey in 1997. Massey subsequently broke the contract.

In the contract was a forum-selection clause which required all actions stemming from the agreement to be brought in Buchanan County, Va. The "(a)greement, in all respects, shall be governed, construed and enforced in accordance with the substantive laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. All actions brought in connection with this Agreement shall be filed in and decided by the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Virginia ..." the contract read.

Each member of the Court has played his or her own role in the well-publicized case.

* Justice Robin Davis authored the majority opinion, finding that a Boone County jury had every reason to award such a large judgment to Harman. However, she wrote that because the company had filed a similar case in Virginia, "(N)o matter how sympathetic the facts are, or how egregious the conduct, we simply cannot compromise the law in order to reach a result that clearly appears to be justified.

"(T)he law simply did not permit this case to be filed in West Virginia."

* Justice Joseph Albright wrote a dissenting opinion, calling the majority "flat-out wrong." He said a 1977 Virginia statute allows plaintiffs to file contract claims and tort claims concerning the same matter in separate lawsuits.

"The long and the short of it is that the adjudication of the contract action in Virginia, resulting ultimately in a recovery of about $6 million, did not affect the rights of the plaintiffs in the action sub judice to recover damages in tort in a separate action, under either Virginia or West Virginia law," he wrote.

* Starcher offered his own dissent. His reply to the majority opinion was "horse puckey!"

Starcher has long been a critic of Blankenship's, calling him, in public, "stupid" and "a clown." The millions Blankenship spent on Benjamin's campaign against Warren McGraw (brother of Attorney General Darrell McGraw) left Starcher feeling that Blankenship was buying the state Supreme Court.

Blankenship, in turn, sued the Court with the hopes of disqualifying Starcher from any Massey cases.

"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!" Starcher wrote.

* In a concurring opinion, Benjamin responded to Starcher's dissent -- sort of. He said it was light on legal matters to which he could reply.

"(E)motion-laden verbiage which could easily be perceived as showing an apparent grudge or personal animosity should never serve as the basis for a separate opinion at the appellate level," Benjamin wrote.

"I believe the dissenting opinions lack logical rigor and legal support," Benjamin wrote. "By baiting emotions, the dissents adopt a 'political voice' rather than a 'judicial voice.'

"Resorts to emotions and sensationalism generally betray the lack of a cogent legal basis for one's criticism."

Starcher, who will not run for re-election this year, had written of his feelings for Blankenship in his dissent -- "(H)e 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," he wrote.

"What is sad is that a majority of this Court is telling a West Virginia jury that their work to bring about justice was a complete waste."

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