(03/29/2008)
Lawyers defending a $76 million judgment won against Massey Energy Co. by the WV Supreme Court are citing a poll of 753 West Virginians to help them have Justice Brent Benjamin recuse himself from a re-hearing.

Justice Brent Benjamin previously declined requests from Harman Mining Co. and its president to withdraw from Massey's appeal.

Harman Coal and Hugh Caperton argue that Benjamin's impartiality is in question because Don Blankenship, Massey's CEO, spent an estimated $3.5 million to help get him elected in 2004.

A Colorado-based firm Talmey-Drake conducted the poll by telephone this week, with about 70% of the respondents saying Benjamin could not be impartial under such circumstances.

The poll also included another Massey case the high court reversed against Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.

In both of the Supreme Court's reversals, lower courts ruled Massey was guilty of wrongdoing.

America's best-selling novelist John Grisham says he is writing a fictionalized account of West Virginia's "antics," related to coal's cozy influence with money and power over the Supreme Court.

The survey asked about the 2006 unearthed photographs showing Blankenship in Monaco with Elliott "Spike" Maynard, the Supreme Court's chief justice, while Massey-related cases were pending before the high court.

The photos have been the subject of national headlines, and Maynard has now recused himself, as has Justice Larry Starcher, a frequent critic of Blankenship and Massey Coal.

Justice Starcher has scheduled an unprecedented April 10 public hearing on a Massey request that he recuse himself from the Wheeling-Pitt case.


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