Rehearing of two high-profile cases to be determined

By John O'Brien | Jan 7, 2010



CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court will soon decide whether to rehear two of its more closely watched recent decisions.

On Jan. 14, the justices have scheduled the $50 million case of Harman Mining and the public records case involving a former justice's e-mails for a rehearing conference. Both cases were decided with 4-1 votes, with Justice Margaret Workman dissenting both times.

Caperton filed a motion in December asking the court reverse its decision that overturned a $50 million Boone County verdict in his favor. The case made national news when Caperton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Justice Brent Benjamin should not be allowed to hear it.

A 3-2 decision in 2007 in favor of Massey overturned the verdict before Caperton complained about the relationship between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and then-Justice Spike Maynard. The two had been photographed together in Monaco, where they claim they had been vacationing separately at the same time.

In March 2008, the justices (minus Maynard) again voted 3-2 in favor of Massey, and Caperton complained that Benjamin shouldn't have participated because Blankenship spent millions of dollars supporting his 2004 campaign.

The issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court in March, and it ruled in a 5-4 vote that Benjamin should have recused himself, setting the stage for a third decision.

That decision, like the other two, focused on a forum-selection clause in a coal supply contract between the two parties. It said all disputes arising from the contract must be brought in a county in Virginia.

The public records case determined that a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge erred in releasing five of former Justice Spike Maynard's e-mails to The Associated Press. The e-mails were sent to Blankenship.

"None of the e-mail's contents involved the official duties, responsibilities or obligations of Justice Maynard as a duly elected member of this Court," Justice Robin Davis wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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