A six year old West Virginia jury award now worth $70 million against the country's fourth largest coal company was overturned last week by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Now a look back at what happened in between is raising eyebrows, not to mention Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's hackles. This one seems eerily similar to John Grisham's latest, only this is for real. ABC's Brian Ross explains.
After Massey Energy appealed the case, its CEO Don Blankenship, a Richmond Virginia resident, helped bankroll a $3.5 million ad campaign to successfully unseat W.V. Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw and replace him with Justice Brent Benjamin, or as fellow Justice Larry Starcher put it, "the election was bought, a seat was purchased on our Supreme Court, and I'm highly offended by it." Then pictures surfaced of Blankenship and W.V. Supreme Court Chief Justice Spike Maynard vacationing with their girlfriends on the Riviera. "It was a trip the Chief Justice never disclosed to the court, even when he voted with the majority to overturn the huge Massey verdict, according to Justice Starcher, who is now being interviewed by the FBI."
After the pictures became public, Justice Maynard did recuse himself, but so did fellow Justice Starcher because (gasp), he had dared to have been critical of Blankenship's relationship with the Court. So the three remaining W.V. Justices, including Blankenship's 3.5 million dollar Justice Benjamin, reheard the case last week and again overturned it.
When approached for a comment by ABC News, Blankenship threatened that the reporter was "liable to get shot" and attacked his camera.
W.V. Chief Justice Maynard insists he's been the victim of "the mother of all political smears," even after it came out that Blankenship's chief political consultant is now helping Maynard's re-election bid. Let's hope that goes about as well as Blankenship's $3 million attempt to finance a GOP takeover of the W.V. House in 2006.