21 July 2009

Massey CEO Figures in Another Recusal Flap

A friendship with Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship's are among the alleged reasons being invoked by plaintiffs in a mining pollution case as they seek to disqualify the presiding judge, The Associated Press and others report.

The recusal filing targeting Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury further alleges that the judge has "personal and financial conflicts of interest, participated in illegal out-of-court communications with Virginia-based Massey’s lawyers, deceived plaintiffs into waiving their right to seek legal fees and created “an atmosphere of bias that has permeated all levels of court personnel," AP reports.

Both AP and The Charleston Gazette report that the motion also alleges Thornsbury "appointed his personal business partner -- a Williamson doctor with ties to Massey -- as administrator of a medical monitoring program meant to see if coal-slurry pollution of water supplies has made residents sick."

But the court filing is also the latest "to accuse Blankenship of having an appearance of impropriety with a West Virginia judge," the AP article said.

"In June, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself from Massey’s appeal of a $50 million verdict involving Harman Mining Corp. because Blankenship had spent $3 million to help elect him," AP reported. "Earlier, Harman’s lawyers unearthed photos showing Blankenship on the French Riviera in 2006 with then-chief justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard, who recused himself and lost re-election four months later."

"Thornsbury said the complaint contains several false allegations, and his secretary, Shelley Kelley, said Monday he will respond to them in writing later this week," the AP article said. "Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater also said the company will respond in court."

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