Mazzone makes preemptive move on slurry hearing

By Steve Korris | Aug 19, 2011


CHARLESTON – Circuit Judge James Mazzone won't let a hearing on a breach of confidentiality in mass settlement of litigation over water pollution from coal mines turn into a circus.

On Aug. 11, he signed an order regulating behavior at the Kanawha County courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

"There will be no signage regarding either side's position with respect to the Mingo County coal slurry litigation allowed in or around the courtroom or within sight of the courthouse," he wrote.

"There will be no buttons, tee-shirts, hats or other garments regarding either side's position," he wrote.

"There will be no bottles of water placed on display," he wrote.

"There will be no lobbying, protests or demonstrations of any kind," he wrote.

Mass litigation judges thought they had achieved a peaceful conclusion to hundreds of suits that Kevin Thompson of Williamson filed.

Thompson claimed Massey Energy subsidiary Rawl Sales and Processing stored slurry in ways that contaminated wells.

Circuit judges Derek Swope and Alan Moats announced successful mediation on July 27, canceling a trial that Mazzone would have started on Aug. 1, in Wheeling.

Moats and Swope wrote, "The settlement agreement will not be subject to distribution beyond the panel and all information regarding the terms of the settlement agreement will remain strictly confidential."

New owner Alpha Natural Resources learned a hard lesson in West Virginia law when the Associated Press reported that it agreed to pay $35 million.

Alpha moved for "production of correspondence and additional information from plaintiffs' counsel relating to breach of confidentiality."

Mazzone set a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, in the ceremonial courtroom of the Kanawha County courthouse, and he issued the order for crowd control.

He plans a hearing on allocation and distribution of settlement proceeds on Sept. 29.

Kim Fields, mass litigation manager for the state Supreme Court, said the order also will apply to distribution hearing as well as any subsequent hearings in the case.

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