DOJ says prosecutors in Blankenship case committed misconduct

By Kyla Asbury | Aug 15, 2018

CHARLESTON — The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility says former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby committed professional misconduct and recklessly disregarded discovery obligations during the prosecution of Don Blankenship's case in 2015.

In its findings, OPR also said Goodwin and Ruby violated DOJ policies when they failed to provide more than 60 memoranda of witness interviews to the defense attorneys.

In a news release, Blankenship's campaign noted that many of the witnesses supported his position that he had done nothing illegal.

Goodwin and Ruby's actions violated Blankenship's constitutional rights and he was denied a fair trial because of it.

The letter was sent to Benjamin L. Hatch of McGuire Woods by Jeffrey Ragsdale of OPR.

The DOJ reached conclusions that Ruby exercised poor judgment by failing to disclose discoverable statements contained in 11 pre-indictment memoranda of witness interviews; that Ruby and Goodwin violated discovery requirements; and that some of the undisclosed memoranda of witness interviews were required to be disclosed.

The letter also states that neither Ruby nor Goodwin withheld the discoverable statements from the defense with the intent of preventing them from obtaining the statements.

The DOJ also found insufficient evidence to conclude that Ruby and Goodwin's failure to disclose the discoverable statements contained in the undisclosed memoranda of witness interviews violated West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. 

There was also insufficient evidence to conclude that the government filed three misleading pleadings with the court or that Ruby made a misleading statement in court.

Ruby and Goodwin did not intentionally mislead the court regarding the government's memoranda of witness interview disclosures, according to the letter.

“I am proud of the work we did for the people of the United States," Ruby said. "We presented the evidence and a jury of his peers found Don Blankenship guilty of conspiring to violate mandatory mine safety and health standards at UBB at the time of the explosion."

Ruby said Blankenship's conviction was unanimously affirmed on appeal.

"After an investigation of more than two years—one that Blankenship requested—the OPR found no Brady violation, no legal violation, and no violation of any rule of professional conduct," Ruby said. "The only negative finding as to me was an unintentional violation of an internal DOJ memo from 2010—with no finding that it affected the outcome of the case or violated a rule of professional conduct."

Ruby said while he disagrees with OPR's conclusion relating to the 2010 internal DOJ memo, it is clear from OPR’s opinion that the prosecution team fully operated within the bounds of federal and state laws.

"Further, despite OPR’s clear conclusion that Mr. Blankenship was in no way prejudiced by any actions taken during his prosecution, his attempts to mislead on that point should be seen as nothing more than a desperate Hail Mary from a failed politician running on his own ballot line after losing badly for the Republican nomination," Ruby said.

Blankenship said he believes the OPR found Brady violations, but that they are saying they did not.

"Some are saying that OPR found no Brady violations. But the truth is that they did. They just aren’t saying that they found any," Blankenship said. "That’s no big surprise, as they cannot even find the MSHA inspector emails. And no one will ever find the UBB documents that the investigators shredded in Beckley."

Blankenship said the DOJ is claiming that reports and documents which were not provided to the defense would not have made a difference in the outcome of the trial.

"According to them, none of the documents not provided would have helped me prove I was not guilty, so they are not what lawyers call 'Brady,'" Blankenship said. "It is no surprise that the government would take this position. They are defending their compadres."

Blankenship continues to pursue dismissal of his conviction. His campaign believes a dismissal will be granted due to the prosecution's misconduct coming to light.

"Don offers his personal apologies to the public and the MSHA victims’ families that he cannot disclose the details of the prosecution misconduct even though he has personal access to those details," the news release states.

Blankenship was required to sign a protective order which prohibits him from disclosing details of the misconduct to the public.

Blankenship is currently appealing the denial that he can't run in the U.S. Senate race for the Constitution Party. He lost in the Republican primary in May to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins. During the primary election, Blankenship won in four counties.

Blankenship is challenging the "sore loser" law. When he filed to run with the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office last month, he provided thousands of signatures of voters.

Blakenship was convicted for conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards in 2015, which was the cause of the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that resulted in the death of 29 miners.

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