CHARLESTON – The federal government has been granted a 45-day delay to review documents in Don Blankenship’s attempt to have his conviction vacated.
“The United States Government has granted itself a 45-day delay to review Upper Big Branch documents that it has kept hidden now for over eight years – documents the U.S. Government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) had asked the U.S. Government’s Judge to delay reviewing for 90 days,” Blankenship said in a June 11 press release from his U.S. Senate campaign. “The 45-day delay the U.S. Government Judge granted to the U.S. Government DOJ is a delay just to prepare to review the documents, not to actually review them or to release them.”
The government had requested a 90-day delay, but that was denied.
“We guess the 45-day delay versus the 90 days requested is meant to suggest compromise and reasonableness. We can only assume that the U.S. Government Judge figures that after nearly 3000 days, 45 more days is not very much longer,” Blankenship wrote in his press statement. “The U.S. Government will most likely continue to keep hidden the documents that would be most damaging to the DOJ. Documents that will prove that I was falsely convicted of a misdemeanor and imprisoned for the misdemeanor before any opportunity to appeal.
“It’s even more unlikely that they will release the ones showing that they know they blew up the mine. Of course, the U.S. Government has already provided documents saying it shredded documents at a shredding party, separately destroyed trash bag loads of documents and altered charts to make them unreadable. Despite all this, we remain hopeful that some truth will be released.”
Blankenship contends the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County that killed 29 miners occurred because of government regulations that reduced the amount of air to the mine.
Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards during the 15-month period before the April 5, 2010, explosion. He was acquitted of felony charges of securities fraud and making false statements. He was sentenced to one year in prison in April 2016. He finished that sentence last May and appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said it wouldn’t hear his appeal.
In their motion to object to the 90-day delay, Blankenship’s legal team said “time is of the essence for both Mr. Blankenship and the public.”
“First, Mr. Blankenship cannot countenance further delay on the part of the government, during which time he must live under the cloud of the very prosecution he is challenging,” they wrote. “It is particularly inappropriate for the government to ask for so much delay when it was its own original delay that put Mr. Blankenship in this position in the first place.
“Mr. Blankenship meanwhile lives under the cloud of this prosecution every day until the court is able to reach its decision on the merits. Mr. Blankenship is eager to proceed expeditiously with the court proceedings to reach resolution and accounting for the conduct that is the subject of his Motion and for relief from his wrongful conviction.”
The motion also mentions his U.S. Senate campaign. Blankenship finished third in the May 8 Republican primary for Democrat Joe Manchin’s Senate seat. Blankenship recently accepted the nomination of the Constitution Party to be its Senate candidate in the fall general election.
“Further delay is not in the public interest,” the motion states. “Mr. Blankenship is seeking high public office, and the election for that office is in November of this year. Mr. Blankenship has been subjected to criticism in the campaign based on his prior conviction, and Mr. Blankenship believes the citizens of West Virginia have a right to know the full facts and what those facts mean in regard to his motion so that the citizens can have full information in making their important decision in November.
“Under the government’s proposed timeline, it will not even respond to the motion for in camera review until mid-September, enabling scant time for the underlying merits of this dispute to be resolved prior to the election in November.”
In his campaign press release, Blankenship says the federal government continues to refuse to release the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility Report regarding his case.
“One can only assume that the report which itself was written hundreds of days ago says the prosecutors did not behave ‘responsibly,’” he wrote. “Who knows whether the report is being shredded, carried out in trash bags, or made unreadable. Our U.S. Government is corrupt.”
Blankenship’s Senate campaign also has begun its push to collect enough signatures to get his name on the November ballot as the Constitution Party candidate.
His campaign needs 7,000 valid signatures from registered voters. His campaign also is seeking volunteers to serve as petition organizers.
In his motion to vacate his conviction, Blankenship is being represented Henry Jernigan of the Charleston office of Dinsmore & Shohl as well as Howard C. Vick and Benjamin L. Hatch of Richmond-based McGuireWoods.