(03/14/2008)
The Wall Street Journal is reporting a federal probe regarding the relationship between the West Virginia Supreme Court judge(s) and Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Investigators from the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Charleston have interviewed employees of the West Virginia Supreme Court about a controversial case involving Massey Energy, according to the Charleston Gazette.

The federal investigation reportedly focuses on the relationship between Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Massey Energy CEO Donald Blankenship.

The two men were photographed together during July 2006 vacations along the French Riviera and in Monaco while Massey cases were before the high court.

At a Thursday meeting between Supreme Court candidates and Gazette editors, Maynard said he had just been informed about the Journal report. "That's all I know about it," he said.

Chief Justice Spike Maynards said he did not believe such an investigation is ongoing, indicating he thinks the Wall Street Journal article is mistaken.

In 2002, a Boone County jury ruled that Massey should pay now-bankrupt Harman Mining and its owner, Hugh Caperton, $60 million for essentially putting the company out of business.

Last year, the state Supreme Court voted 3-2, with Maynard voting with the majority, to overturn that verdict and said Massey did not have to pay the damages.

Maynard has now recused himself from a re-hearing about the case, which happened this week, the ruling is expected later this year.

Justice Larry Starcher, who voted to sustain the Harman verdict, also recused himself from the case because of public comments he has made about Blankenship.

Justice Brent Benjamin, acting chief justice in the Massey case, has refused to step down even though Blankenship contributed more than $3 million to help him win a seat on the five-member court in 2004.

Maynard has now recused himself from another Massey case. In July 2007, a Brooke County jury ruled Massey must pay $240 million to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel for failing to deliver metallurgical coal under a long-term contract.

Massey, according to court records, sold the coal at a better price to a foreign country.

Massey has now appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Maynard is running for re-election to a 12-year seat on the court.

Starcher chose not to run for re-election.


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