January 14, 2008

The Best Justice Money Can Buy.

West Virginia produces lots of coal. Coal producers get lots of money from the coal they sell. Mining coal is destructive to the environment (mountaintop removal, valley fill, etc.) and people (black lung disease, etc.), so coal producers are always in court defending themselves against claims that they are doing something wrong. As you might imagine, having the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court in your pocket helps nudge Justice a bit:

A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive's companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

A little more than a year later, the justice, Elliott E. Maynard, voted with the majority in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of the coal companies.

Justice Maynard, who is now West Virginia's chief justice, and Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy, were "vacationing together," according to a motion seeking Justice Maynard's disqualification, which was filed on Monday.

The story goes on to have the (now standard) denials by Blankenship that it was just a coincidence and the two just happened to be in the same area at the same time (the Judge refused to comment). I thought this sort of stuff only happened in Rhode Island.

Posted by baltar at January 14, 2008 11:34 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Corruption | Law and the Courts | Shine the Light on It


Hopefully someone worth voting for will run against him (he's running for reelection this year), but I haven't heard of any other candidates for his seat.

Posted by: Armand at January 15, 2008 08:49 AM | PERMALINK

I must protest!

While I now live in Morgantown, I was born and raised in Rhode Island (and lived there most of my life). I must come to the defense of Rhode Island. This situation would never occur in there; unless of course Blankenship was in the Mafia.

Posted by: Mike K at January 15, 2008 09:20 AM | PERMALINK

That's why Baltar wrote that. He's from Rhode Island, and lives in Motown too.

Maybe Blankenship has a cousin named "Buddy."

Posted by: binky at January 15, 2008 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, I grew up with Baltar in RI. I can absolutely assure you that he knows what's what about corruption there.

Also, you're completely wrong.

Posted by: jacflash at January 15, 2008 01:03 PM | PERMALINK

anyone who steps up to run against him has to raise the money to mount a serious challenge. that's the problem with an elected judiciary (and please no one blow up at me; i could cite lots of problems with the appointment-driven judiciaries out there, too -- but i'd rather, and i think justice would be better served, if it were political hackery instead of buying and selling jurists at issue). no one achieves that level of statewide office without having powerful, moneyed friends. obviously, there are more and less ethical ways of dealing with that fact, and chief justice maynard appears to have gone waaaaay over the line. but then who can forget justice scalia's contemptuous response to the motion for recusal in the cheney case, after those two went hunting together. maybe blankenship was in monte carlo merely in his "official capacity."

Posted by: moon at January 15, 2008 07:44 PM | PERMALINK

My first thought regarding your comment Moon is to ask "What doesn't provoke a contemptuous response from Justice Scalia?" But I guess that might move the thread in a different direction.

And you are exactly right. These are really expensive races, and usually the only people who are willing to front the cash for such things are those who are going to appear before the justices. In Louisiana the races tended to be between LABI (business) and the lawyers, with LABI usually winning. It's a really messed up way to pick judges.

And for the record the Republicans have already decided they won't run anyone against Maynard. They consider him the most conservative justice on the Court, so they don't want to see him go. And the Democrats are likely to be fighting amongst themselves for the other (open) seat on the Court this year, since that'll be an easier race.

Posted by: Armand at January 15, 2008 08:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Rhode Island politics are in a class by themselves. The Chief Justice of the RI Court was impeached back in the early 1990s. West Virginia hasn't reached that level (yet). We also, as binky noted, had a mayor of the capitol ("Buddy" Cianci) who beat his ex-wife's boyfriend (while his state police driver held the guy down), who also went to jail on Federal corruption charges. When he got out of jail he was RE-ELECTED MAYOR. West Virginia has a ways to go.

Posted by: baltar at January 15, 2008 09:19 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and our ex-football coach, who decamped to Michigan, turns out to be a scumbag too. Before he left he shredded most of the paperwork on all the players. That's tremendously mature.

West Virginia can't play with New York or Rhode Island for corruption, but they're trying hard. Points for effort.

Posted by: baltar at January 15, 2008 09:23 PM | PERMALINK

not to try to elevate pennsylvania to similar status, but our former justice larsen was under indictment for corruption charges that ultimately sank him when the pennsylvania voters voted to retain him for another ten years.

Posted by: moon at January 16, 2008 09:43 AM | PERMALINK

Well, he's recused himself, but under duress it appears. I hope that this "step in the right direction" is followed by some others.

Posted by: binky at January 20, 2008 09:58 AM | PERMALINK

True, though the piece says it's not clear if it'll matter at this point.

Posted by: Armand at January 20, 2008 10:19 AM | PERMALINK
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