This Editorial originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

January 16, 2008

Maynard admits Monaco meeting

Blankenship not an influence on rulings, justice says

By The Associated Press

West Virginia’s chief Supreme Court justice acknowledged meeting up with a coal company executive while vacationing in Europe, but said Tuesday that their friendship “has never influenced any decision I’ve made for the court.”

“Like most judges I don’t reward my friends or punish my enemies from the bench,” Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard said in a statement.

Photos filed with the court Monday appear to show Maynard and Massey Energy Co.’s Don Blankenship together in Monaco over three days in July 2006. Blankenship is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Richmond, Va.-based Massey, a leading coal producer.

The photos were provided by lawyers asking the court to reconsider its November reversal of a $76.3 million judgment against Massey. Maynard was part of the 3-2 majority, and the filing seeks his removal from reconsidering the case.

The photos “clearly evidence the appearance of impropriety” and raise “the specter of corruption or worse,” according to the motion by lawyers representing Harman Coal Co. and its president, Hugh Caperton.

Maynard’s statement did not say if he would recuse himself. He said he would respond to the motion in writing at a later date.

Ben Greene, law professor and director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University, said several questions arise from Maynard’s and Blankenship’s apparent socializing.

“There’s the question that the appearance of the justice’s relationship with Mr. Blankenship is such a personal relationship, that his impartiality might be questioned,” said Greene. “Then, there’s the appearance that they’re having ex parte [one-sided] communications that may involve the case that’s heading before the Supreme Court.”

In his statement, Maynard said, “The suggestion that I have done something improper is nonsense.”

“I have never denied my friendship with Mr. Blankenship,” said Maynard, who is up for re-election this year. “Our friendship has never influenced any decision I’ve made for the Court.”

Blankenship told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he and Maynard decided to meet in Monaco after learning they would both be in the area at the same time. A Massey spokesman had earlier said that he did not believe the two had coordinated their vacation plans.

“I don’t know if it’s totally a coincidence,” Blankenship said. “I know that we didn’t travel together, we didn’t vacation together. ... It just happens to be more sexy because of the location, I guess.”

“This is exactly the kind of case where a justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” said Deborah Rhode, a law professor and director of Stanford University’s Center for Ethics. “It doesn’t matter whether they planned it, or discovered by happy coincidence that they would be in the same place. ... This kind of ex parte contact is clearly inappropriate.”

Harman Mining’s and Caperton’s motion also questions “the source of payment for the luxurious accommodations at issue as well as the cost of transportation and similar expenditures.”

Blankenship said he did not believe he paid any of Maynard’s expenses. The justice echoed that in his statement, adding that “I have receipts and records to prove it.”

The AP requested the records Tuesday. State ethics rules require public officials to disclose gifts, including meals and beverages, from non-family whenever their cumulative value exceeds $100 in a calendar year. Maynard reported no gifts in 2006.

A month after the European rendezvous, Massey sued the state Supreme Court over its policy on how the justices decide to remove themselves from cases. The pending federal lawsuit alleges the court wrongly gives an individual justice the final say when asked to step down from a case.

Massey’s lawsuit singles out Justice Larry Starcher for his public comments critical of Blankenship and Massey. Some of those comments targeted Blankenship for spending an estimated $3.5 million in 2004 to oust incumbent Justice Warren McGraw, a Democrat, and elect Republican Brent Benjamin in his place.

Benjamin voted with Maynard in the Massey case, while Starcher dissented.

Starcher issued a memo Monday urging Court Administrator Steve Canterbury to preserve any evidence of “inappropriate contacts” between Maynard and Blankenship.

The memo asks Canterbury to ensure that no documents are destroyed or records “on servers or otherwise, of any document or digital photographs, be altered, removed or erased.” Canterbury said the memo echoes court policy.

Caperton and Harman Mining won the judgment against Massey in 2002. A Boone County jury concluded that Massey had hijacked a lucrative coal supply contract from Harman, ruining both it and Caperton.

One of those lawyers, Bruce Stanley, said the photos came to him anonymously.

The 36 images include 10 he filed under seal. Those allegedly depict Maynard and Blankenship with “two females apparently traveling with them as companions,” the motion said, and were filed so “the Court might be advised that there are available witnesses to this spectacle.”

AP writer Tim Huber contributed to this report.


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