Caperton-Massey saga

By Chris Dickerson | Mar 29, 2012

CHARLESTON -- The Caperton-Massey saga began in 1998 when Harman Mining President Hugh Caperton sued A.T. Massey Coal alleging Massey canceled a contract, resulting in the company going out of business. In 2002, a Boone Circuit Court jury ruled for Caperton and awarded him $50 million.

Massey appealed to the state Supreme Court. While it was awaiting hearing, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship created a non-profit called "And for the Sake of the Kids" and contributed more than $3 million to help oust then-Justice Warren McGraw from the bench. McGraw was running against Brent Benjamin.

Benjamin defeated McGraw. In 2007 when the case came before the state Supreme Court, Caperton asked for Benjamin to recuse himself because of Blankenship's contributions during the campaign. Benjamin declined and was part of the 3-2 majority that overturned the $50 million Boone County verdict.

Benjamin said he was not biased and that because there was no direct financial or other connection between him and Blankenship, there was no obligation for him to recuse himself

At the same time, Blankenship asked former Justice Larry Starcher to recuse himself because comments Starcher had made about Blankenship. Starcher also initially refused to recuse himself.

Caperton then was granted a requested rehearing of the case. Then, former Justice Spike Maynard recused himself after photos of him vacationing with Blankenship, a lifelong friend, on the French Riviera.

Maynard lost his re-election bid in 2008, and Starcher – who eventually did recuse himself from the case -- did not seek re-election that same year.

In April 2008, the state Supreme Court again ruled in favor of Massey by a 3-2 vote.

After the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the state Supreme Court, it was heard for the third time by the Justices. Benjamin did recuse himself after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. With Maynard and Starcher no longer on the bench and Justice Joseph Albright taking a leave of absence for esophageal cancer, Justice Robin Davis was the only Justice on the bench who had heard the case before.

This time, the Court ruled 4-1 in favor of Massey, saying Caperton should have pursued the claim in Virginia based on a clause in the contract.

-- By Chris Dickerson

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