In defense of reason

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 8, 2008

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin is right.

All judicial opinions aren't created equal.

Such was the resounding subtext of Benjamin's 58-page concurrence issued last week, in support of the court's decision to overturn a $50 million verdict in Harman Mining v. Massey Energy.

In firm and effective language, Benjamin pegged the intemperate attitude of the dissenting court colleagues for what it was: improper and unbecoming conduct by judges of our state's most prestigious court.

"Judges who use their opinions and orders simply as sensationalistic bombast by which to convey partisan agendas or who pander to emotion rather than legal reason do a disservice to the rule of law and to the institution they serve," Benjamin wrote.

The behavior in the case by Justices Joseph Albright and Larry Starcher, both of whom shunned actual legal reasoning in favor of emotional mudslinging at fellow justices, did the court's reputation a grevious disservice. They acted and sounded like trashy guests in a Jerry Springer episode.

"There is an important difference between a thoughtful, well-reasoned separate opinion or order and one which is grounded in the political manipulation of legal doctrine," Benjamin wrote.

"In the case of ensuring a stable, predictable and fair judicial system, that difference matters."

And it mattered dearly in a case that eventually showcased the ugly side of West Virginia's highest court.

Rather than argue points of law, Albright and Starcher staked out a position that the court on which they sat was inextricably biased.

Not their bias, of course. They are the fairest members of them all. It's the other justices, their polar opposites, who are the problem. They're the partisan ones who needed to be removed from the Harman v. Massey case.

Justice Spike Maynard granted their wishes. Justice Benjamin held firm defending the court's reputation. He's been taking a political beating ever since.

Through his reasoned opinion he's fought back, preferring the rule of law to cheap emotion and vitriol.

He delivered a knockout.

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