CHARLESTON – Justice Larry Starcher's unprecedented public hearing to listen to a recuse request won't happen after all.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court voted 5-0 to refuse Massey Energy's writ of prohibition, and Starcher canceled Thursday's hearing to listen to Massey Energy's request that he recuse himself from its appeal of a $240 million judgment won by Wheeling-Pitt in a contract dispute.
"The order speaks for itself and upholds the inherent power of the court in how it conducts its affairs," Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said. "The court denied the writ, and Justice Starcher canceled the hearing."
Starcher also issued a statement.
"Although I would have much preferred to have addressed the issue of Massey's influence on the Court in an open-to-the-public forum, I am satisfied that the Court has unanimously voted to refuse Massey's petition to stop the hearing as having no legal merit," Starcher wrote. "Because the Court will be addressing the matters raised in the petition as an administrative matter – as I urged the Court to do, I agreed to withdraw my notice for a hearing at this time. I now plan to seek the information I need from the litigants by use of written interrogatories."
Wednesday's order also explained Starcher's move.
"Justice Starcher consented to withdraw the Notice of Hearing on the Motion to Recuse filed," the order states. "Justice Starcher, however, reserves the right to solicit further information from the parties with respect to the Renewed Joint Motion to Recuse the Honorable Larry Starcher in the underlying case."
In earlier filings, Massey said Starcher has no authority to conduct such a hearing.
On Monday, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel filed a response saying Starcher's hearing should have happened.
"There has never been a time in the history of West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals when opening proceedings have been needed as much as they are needed now," Wheeling-Pitt's response said.
Last week, Massey added to its original recusal request, noting that Starcher spoke again about Massey and CEO Don Blankenship during a recent interview with ABC News. The story aired Monday on both "World News Tonight With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."
Massey also said in its April 1 filing that Starcher wrongly portrayed Blankenship's friendship with Maynard in a letter to the other justices.
Acting Chief Justice Brent Benjamin had appointed retired Greenbrier Circuit Judge Frank Jolliffe to sit in on the decision to hold the Starcher hearing because Chief Justice Spike Maynard took himself off the matter. Benjamin has appointed Jolliffe for the appeal as well.
Starcher has a history with Massey and CEO Don Blankenship.
Massey has asked Starcher on numerous occasions to recuse himself from its cases. In the past, Starcher has referred to Blankenship as "stupid" and "a clown." He also has criticized Blankenship for supporting Justice Brent Benjamin in his 2004 election over Warren McGraw. Starcher did step down from the Harman case.
Blankenship has sued the state Supreme Court in federal court in an effort to have Starcher removed from all his cases.
Maynard withdrew from both the appeal and the recusal matter after the release of 2006 vacation photos showing him in Monaco with Blankenship.