CHARLESTON –- The West Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously granted a petition filed by The Associated Press, which is seeking eight e-mails between former Justice Elliott "Spike' Maynard and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
Last September, Kanawha Circuit Judge Louis Bloom ordered the Supreme Court to release only five of 13 e-mails between the men to The AP pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury had initially refused to comply with the request, arguing that judicial communications are exempt from the FOIA.
The AP then sued in Kanawha Circuit Court, leading to Bloom's order.
"I believe in the courts or I wouldn't work here," Canterbury said Thursday. "This is a very interesting and imporatnat case and I think it will be enlightening to see how it turns out."
The AP sought the e-mails after photos of Maynard and Blankenship on the French Riviera surfaced in January 2008 as part of a case involving Harman Mining Company, that was fighting to sustain a $50 million verdict in its favor. The company had sued Massey in Boone County for fraudulent business practices.
Massey had successfully petitioned the court to overturn the verdict. The photos surfaced as part of a recusal motion targeting Maynard as the court prepared to rehear the case.
Bloom had said at the time he ordered the release of the five e-mails that had Maynard not recused himself from the rehearing the case, he would have ordered the release of all 13.
In its appeal, The AP argues that with judicial impartiality becoming a topic of nationwide interest, the remaining e-mails should be considered part of the public record and released.
The AP also argued that releasing the e-mails could help restore the public's trust in its judicial officers.
Hugh Caperton, president of Harman Mining, also wanted Chief Justice Brent Benjamin to step down from rehearing the case because Blankenship spent $3 million on a campaign aimed at defeating Justice Warren McGraw, Benjamin's opponent in the 2004 general election.
Benjamin refused to step down and voted with the court in rehearing the Massey appeal, which was again upheld. The matter is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supreme Court case number: 090122
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