Mingo coal slurry cases moved once again

By Steve Korris | Jun 18, 2010

WHEELING -– Water contamination lawsuits that started in Mingo County and bounced to Jackson County have bounced again, to Ohio County.

Jackson Circuit Judge Thomas Evans, who took charge of suits against Massey Energy and a subsidiary last August, recused himself on May 26.

On May 27, the state's Judicial Panel on Mass Litigation transferred the suits to Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone.

Evans announced his decision in a letter to lawyer Kevin Thompson of Williamson.

Evans wrote, "As a result of the matters set forth in your letter to me last week, and upon further reflection of the entire matter, in order to remove any question of any appearance of impropriety in my service in the resolution of these cases, I have decided to recuse myself from further participation."

The website of the Supreme Court of Appeals posted the judge's letter, but did not post Thompson's letter.

Thompson told The Record his letter did not ask Evans to recuse himself.

"Judge Evans is beyond reproach," Thompson said. "We have no ethical issues with Judge Evans at all."

Plaintiffs filed hundreds of suits in Mingo County, alleging that Massey and its Rawl Sales and Processing stored slurry in ways that contaminated water wells.

Most of the suits started in 2005 and 2006.

The Supreme Court of Appeals placed Evans in charge of all suits last August, but jurisdiction remained in Mingo County.

In April, Chief Justice Robin Davis consolidated the cases and transferred them to Evans's court in Ripley.

Davis listed more than 300 case numbers, only to discover that many plaintiffs had settled their claims.

She signed a second order with a single number representing all cases.

She wrote that lawyers "were unable to reach full agreement regarding omitted and previously dismissed civil actions that should be included in the referral to the panel."

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