(11/26/2007)
Massey Coal has escaped a financial obligation that has ballooned to about $75 million with interest, stemming from a coal contract dispute with Harman Mining Company.

Three West Virginia Supreme Court justices, a majority, said last week it agreed with a Boone County jury award of more than $50 million against Massey Energy, but had no choice but to drop it.

The courts had ruled earlier that Massey "took" Hardman Mining, Massey breaking the conditions of a contractual agreement.

Following the 3-2 decision in favor of Massey, two judges issued scathing dissenting opinions.

Justice Larry Starcher, a fierce public critic of Massey CEO Don Blankenship, replied, "Horse puckey!"

Chief Justice Robin Davis wrote in the majority opinion, "The law simply did not permit this case to be filed in West Virginia."

Also voting in favor of Massey, justices Spike Maynard and Brent Benjamin. Benjamin's 2004 campaign to unseat Warren McGraw received several million dollars from Blankenship, which drew the ire of Starcher.

Starcher accused Blankenship of buying a seat on the Supreme Court, using a political advertising plan called "For the Sake of the Children."

Starcher wrote, "Let's not forget why the jury's verdict was justified: the jurors looked Mr. Blankenship in the eye and concluded that he was lying, and that Mr. Caperton (Harman Mining)was telling the truth."

Starcher called his colleagues' decision both morally and legally wrong.

"Now three members of this Court have ruled that even though it is a fact that Don Blankenship illegally took over $60 million dollars from Hugh Caperton - he can get away with it scot-free. Talk about crime...!" Starcher wrote.

Starcher also made mention of his quarrel with Blankenship.

"As a constitutional officer elected by the people, I have a right and duty to speak out about the administration of our justice system, including the conduct of judicial elections," he wrote.

"I can have opinions, and still do my job fairly. I do decry murder and domestic violence and I speak out on it, and I also sit as a judge and hear cases involving people who are charged with those offenses."

"I am one judge voting on this case who can say that I owe nothing to Mr. Blankenship one way or another. He did nothing to hurt or hinder my election. He did not fund my campaign, nor am I a social friend of his."

"It has been amusing for me to see Mr. Blankenship trying with all his might to create the circumstances where I would be forced to step aside and let him have in toto the kind of Court he wants."

"For example, he has said he will be 'targeting' me in the next election if I run. Fortunately, the public can see through this kind of transparent foolishness, just as a West Virginia jury saw through his lies in court."

"What is sad is that a majority of this Court is telling a West Virginia jury that their work to bring about justice was a complete waste."

Justice Joseph Albright also filed a dissenting opinion, though he focused more on the legal nuts and bolts of the case.

Albright called the majority's opinion "a result-driven effort to excuse without penalty an egregious exercise of raw economic power which a West Virginia jury has found seriously injurious to the plaintiffs in the case, deserving of substantial redress under the law."


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