(03/08/2008)
Looking into the appearance of unethical behavior of West Virginia Supreme Court justices is hard to come by.

The court lacks the power to launch an independent investigation of Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, according to administrator Steve Canterbury.

Supreme Court candidate, WVU law professor Bob Bastress, has requested such an investigation of the relationships of justices with Massey Energy and its CEO Don Blankenship.

Canterbury said he can refer Bastress to the Judicial Investigation Commission, which oversees the ethical conduct in the state's courts, since the court does not investigate itself.

Some state agencies, however, do investigate their own problems, including the West Virginia State Police.

Bastress has expressed concern with conflict of interest allegations regarding Maynard since photos surfaced in January showing him vacationing in Monaco with Blankenship, while cases related to his coal company were before the high court.

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision against Massey for wrongdoing, apparently on technical grounds.

Massey actually had several appeals pending or heading to the state's sole appeals court at the time of the July 2006 trip.

The photos did prompt Maynard to recuse himself from three cases involving the Richmond, Va. based coal producer.

Bastress has called for the early release of Maynard's campaign contributors' list, and for phone and e-mail records from the court from around the time of the vacation trip.

Justice Larry Starcher, who is vacating the other seat instead of seeking re-election, called for such a probe in January following release of the photos.

Canterbury said the justices discussed that request in an administrative conference, but there was apparently no movement on the issue.

But the Judicial Investigation Commission does not comment on whether it has received or is acting on a complaint.

Starcher disqualified himself from the Massey cases because of comments he made about Blankenship and Massey.

Ethical questions also loom over Justice Brent Benjamin, who received over $3 million dollars from Massey for his election.

Benjamin has declined to recuse himself.


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