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Aug. 11, 2006

Massey Energy Sues W.Va. Supreme Court

By TIM HUBER Associated Press Writer
2006 The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. Massey Energy Co. is suing the West Virginia Supreme Court in federal court, claiming a court rule is unconstitutional because it does not provide any recourse when justices refuse to remove themselves from cases.

State Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy referred questions to the court's attorney, John H. Tinney. He could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. "We, of course, have complete confidence in the judicial system," she said.

A Massey spokeswoman also could not immediately be reached.

Richmond, Va.-based Massey's beef centers on Justice Larry Starcher. Massey claims Starcher is publicly hostile toward it and its politically active chief executive, Don Blankenship, and has shown a "strong personal bias." Yet, Starcher has not removed himself from several cases involving the company.

Blankenship has publicly vowed to oust Starcher from the court should he seek re-election. In a speech this past October, Blankenship said he would spend whatever it takes from his personal fortune to campaign against Starcher.

Blankenship spent millions of dollars to help boot Warren McGraw from the Supreme Court in 2004.

Starcher said at the time, "It would be my pleasure to make him spend a lot of his money." He also questioned Blankenship's motivation.

"I think he has no real concern or interest in the betterment of West Virginia," Starcher said. "I think he's simply on an egomaniac trip and is trying to better the bottom line of his coal company."

Bundy said Friday that Starcher would not comment on pending litigation.

Massey said it has one case pending before the court and has asked the court to review a second lawsuit. The company also is involved in at least a dozen circuit court cases it believes could come before the high court.

Subsidiary Marfork Coal is a party in at least six cases in circuit court.

In the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, Massey argues that a state Supreme Court rule violates the company's 14th Amendment right to due process. The rule allows a justice to deny a motion for his or her recusal without a review by an impartial body, Massey said.

Starcher has refused to remove himself from two cases involving Massey. One concerns the suspension of a Marfork permit. The other involves a contract dispute.

"In light of Plaintiffs' past experience before the West Virginia Supreme Court, Plaintiffs reasonably anticipate that they will suffer a deprivation of their constitutional right to a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal in the future," the lawsuit said.

Massey wants the court's recusal rule declared unconstitutional.


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