This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

February 13, 2008

Benjamin asked to withdraw from $240m Massey case

By The Associated Press

Questioning why Massey Energy Co. has set aside only $16 million to cover a $240 million judgment, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Co. has requested the recusal of a justice who won his seat with the help of the coal producer's chief executive.

The steelmaker cites the "staggering and unprecedented amount of money'' Don Blankenship spent on Justice Brent Benjamin's 2004 Supreme Court race.

Estimated by the Massey president, chairman and CEO at $3.5 million, today's recusal petition contends his political campaign represents the costliest by a non-candidate individual "to affect a state court judicial election in the history of the United States.''

Co-plaintiff Mountain State Carbon joined Wheeling-Pitt in the request. The two companies link the reserve and Blankenship's spending to his pretrial testimony in the breach-of-contract case they won last year in Brooke County.

Asked whether his company would prevail, the Massey chief said, "Eventually. I don't know on the first trial, the second trial or the third trial, but at some point.''

"One with knowledge of these facts alone would conclude, rightly or wrongly, that Mr. Blankenship is flaunting what he perceived to be his 'inside track' with this Court,'' today's recusal petition said.

Benjamin had not responded to the petition today.

Court rules require justices to recuse themselves whenever their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned,'' but leaves the decision solely to the targeted jurist.

Chief Justice Elliott "Spike'' Maynard recused himself from the pending appeal Jan. 29, after vacation photos showed him with Blankenship in Monaco. While denying any wrongdoing, Maynard has withdrawn from at least two other Massey-related cases since the photos surfaced last month.

Massey unsuccessfully sought to disqualify Justice Larry Starcher before filing the appeal. It cited Starcher's numerous public comments critical of the company, its CEO and his 2004 campaign.

Among other remarks, Starcher has called Blankenship a "clown'' and said that "Massey has not been good corporate citizen.''

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