Monday, February 16, 2009

More on Massey, Benjamin, & the Supremes

Over the weekend, there were a couple of big newspaper stories about the upcoming Supreme Court case involving Massey Energy's Don Blankenship and West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin's failure to recuse himself from a case involving Massey.

First, in the New York Times, Adam Liptak has a good overview of the case, for those of you who aren't familiar with it. As to why the case warrants the attention of the Supremes:

The case, one of the most important of the term, has the potential to change the way judicial elections are conducted and the way cases are heard in the 39 states that elect at least some of their judges. In many states, campaigns for court seats these days rival in both expense and venom what goes on in, say, a governor’s race. Yet it is commonplace in American courtrooms for judges to hear cases involving lawyers and litigants who have contributed to or spent money to support their campaigns.
Blankenship continues to peddle the argument that all he cared about was beating incumbent Justice Warren McGraw, without any care about his replacement:
'I’ve been around West Virginia long enough to know that politicians don’t stay bought, particularly ones that are going to be in office for 12 years,' he said, referring to the terms of State Supreme Court justices. 'So I would never go out and spend money to try to gain favor with a politician. Eliminating a bad politician makes sense. Electing somebody hoping he’s going to be in your favor doesn’t make any sense at all.'
As I explained last week, this is complete balderdash. In a West Virginia judicial election, the only way to defeat an incumbent is to support a challenger. There is no ability to select "none of the above" or just "throw the bum out." It's nonsensical to think otherwise.

The other big story was in yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Daily Mail, in which investigative reporter Paul Nyden did some digging into some claims made in Massey's brief with the Supremes. Most notably, this one:
In a recent brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for Massey Energy say CEO Don Blankenship and West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin are not friends and 'there is no indication that Blankenship and Justice Benjamin even knew one another, before or after the election.'

But Blankenship and Benjamin have met.

On March 30, 2006, Blankenship had dinner with Benjamin, former Supreme Court Justice Elliott 'Spike' Maynard and Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, at the Athletic Club Sports Grill at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston.
Oops. Massey's lawyer contends he didn't know about the meeting, and I believe him. Still, one should do some due diligence before you make sweeping statements like that in a brief.

The brief also raises the "I only cared about defeating . . ." argument, again. If that's the best they've got (and, to be fair, it may not be - I've not read the briefs), I imagine it will be a long day come oral argument.

1 comment:

Paul Higginbotham said...

I don't trust Blankenship any farther than I could throw him, but I wouldn't automatically discount his defense. After all, many a time I've supported a political candidate solely for the purpose of defeating his/her opponent. For example, I though John Kerry was a chuckle-head, but I threw all my support behind him just in hopes of getting Bush out of office. That certainly didn't mean I was best pals with Kerry.