Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Caperton' Category

W.Va. Judicial Ethics Report Eyed Through Lens of ‘Caperton’

An ABC News report questioning the ethics of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice (see Gavel Grab) continues to generate debate. Now an assistant law professor suggests the state could take a leadership role on judicial ethics questions.

“Because the West Virginia Supreme Court is sort of in the spotlight and has been with a number of years with the issue of canons requiring to recuse or disclose when there is an appearance of impropriety, West Virginia is in position to take a leadership role on these questions of judicial ethics,” Kendra Huard Fershee of the West Virginia University College of Law told the Charleston Daily Mail. Read more

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Blankenship, Key Figure in ‘Caperton,’ Indicted in Mine Explosion

Blankenship in file photo

Blankenship in file photo

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy whose big spending to elect a top West Virginia  judge led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, was charged on Thursday “with widespread violations of safety rules and deceiving federal inspectors,” according to the New York Times. 

Blankenship was indicted in connection with a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men.

Blankenship’s political spending became a poster case for judicial reform advocates when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2009 in Caperton v. Massey (see Gavel Grab for background). Read more

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JAS: Five Years Later, Message of 'Caperton' Even Stronger

0On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court delivered its landmark Caperton v. Massey decision about the threat to impartial courts posed by runaway judicial election spending. On Friday, marking the ruling’s upcoming fifth anniversary, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said Caperton’s message “has only grown stronger”:

“Since Caperton was decided in 2009, a crisis of confidence in the judiciary has escalated, not receded. In Caperton, the Supreme Court of the United States prodded states that elect judges to do something about the threat to justice posed by special interest spending that can influence decisions in the courtroom. Yet since then, too few states have enacted or even considered meaningful measures to keep cash out of the courtroom. Read more

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Jury Awards $5 Million in Contract Dispute Involving Caperton

A detour in this long-running legal dispute brought Hugh Caperton a landmark 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts. Now Caperton, Harman Mining and two related companies have won a $5 million jury verdict in their legal struggle with Massey Energy over a contract for supplying coal.

A jury in Buchanan County, Va. has awarded Harman Mining and the two other companies $4 million in damages and Caperton, $1 million for personal financial damages, the Associated Press reported. The total was far less than the $90 million sum the plaintiffs sought, according to the Wall Street Journal. Read more

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Trial Date Ahead in New Caperton Round Against Massey



Hugh Caperton, plaintiff in a landmark 2009 Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts, may square off in a Grundy, Va. courtroom later this month with the former A.T. Massey Coal Company, with whom Caperton has had a long-running dispute.

Caperton’s 2010 lawsuit accuses Massey of “attempting to buy justice” in  West Virginia’s highest court. A year ago, the Virginia Supreme Court said Caperton and his coal companies could proceed with the lawsuit in Virginia (see Gavel Grab for background).

In  Caperton v. Massey, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that judicial campaign spending can damage a litigant’s right to a fair trial. It required a West Virginia Supreme Court justice to disqualify himself from an appeal involving then-Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship, a major campaign spender in support of the justice.

A jury trial in Virginia is set for April 21, according to the West Virginia Gazette. Read more

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Recusal of High Court Justice Sought Again in North Carolina

Plaintiffs in a legislative and congressional redistricting case in North Carolina are asking for state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby (photo) to step aside from participating in it. They cite a Republican group’s giving $1.2 million in support of Justice Newby in his reelection contest last year.

A similar recusal motion was filed last year and was rejected by the state Supreme Court in December (see Gavel Grab). The latest filing contends that his recusal is more urgent given the court is getting ready to hear an appeal that involves arguments over the redistricting plans’ constitutionality, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. The earlier recusal motion came in a related legal matter; subsequently a lower court found the redistricting plans to be not unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs are contending now, regarding $1.2 million given in support of Justice Newby by the Republican State Leadership Committee, that unless the jurist steps aside, “he will rule on the validity of redistricting plans that were drawn, endorsed, and embraced by the principal funder of a committee supporting his campaign for re-election.” Read more

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New Book Examines Caperton Litigation, 'Compromised Court'

Hugh Caperton’s longtime battle with the former A.T. Massey Coal Company, which resulted in a landmark 2009 Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts, isn’t fading into history.

The conflict and the role of Caperton’s two Pittsburgh attorneys is the topic of a book scheduled for publication soon, called “The Price of Justice.” It presents a compelling tale that is sympathetic to Caperton, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review.

The book by Laurence Leamer also delivers a decidedly unsympathetic view of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Regarding businessman Caperton’s legal dispute with then-Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship, the review says:

“With a careful attention to detail, Mr. Leamer chronicles intrigue inside the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which three times took up Massey’s appeal of the $50 million awarded to [Caperton’s] Harman Development. From Justice Elliott ‘Spike’ Maynard, who vacationed with Mr. Blankenship on the Riviera then ruled with the majority in throwing out the $50 million verdict against Massey, to Justice Brent Benjamin, who refused to recuse himself Read more

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Hugh Caperton Wins New Round in Fight Against Massey

Hugh Caperton (photo), plaintiff in a landmark 2009 Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts, has won a significant round in his long-running legal dispute with the former A.T. Massey Coal Company.

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Caperton and his coal companies can proceed with a 2010 lawsuit against Massey in a Buchanan County, Va. court, according to the West Virginia Gazette. Although a West Virginia jury awarded in 2002 a $50 million verdict in favor of a Caperton company in similar litigation, the West Virginia Supreme Court voted on three different occasions to overturn that verdict. Caperton contends his companies were harmed financially after Massey reduced the quantity of coal that it had agreed to purchase.

In November 2009 the West Virginia court issued its ruling  after Justice Brent Benjamin had recused himself due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. Massey. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that excessive campaign spending in a judicial election could force elected judges to step aside from some cases involving campaign supporters. Then-Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help Benjamin win election. Read more

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Pared-Back Public Financing Plan Before West Virginia Senate

A state Senate committee pared back a House-passed bill to make permanent a public financing program for West Virginia Supreme Court candidates. The revised version would extend the program through 2016, when the next Supreme Court elections are held.

The Senate Judiciary Committee amended the legislation after concerns were expressed about adequate funding for the program, the Associated Press reported.

To learn more about the legislation, see Gavel Grab. The pilot public financing program for judicial elections was adopted after West Virginia became a poster child for campaign finance reform advocates, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Caperton v. Massey.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled then that a West Virginia Supreme Court justice could not participate in a case involving a coal company whose CEO had spent $3 million to help elect him. The high court said the “probability of bias” violated an opposing litigant’s right to a fair, impartial hearing.

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West Virginia Court Candidates Favor Non-Partisan Races

Three of four candidates seeking election to two seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court said they support non-partisan judicial elections.

Democratic candidate Tish Chafin and Republicans Allen Loughry and John Yoder discussed their views at a forum sponsored by the South Charleston Chamber of Commerce, according to a State Journal article. The fourth candidate, incumbent Justice Robin Jean Davis, a Democrat, did not attend the forum.

“I think that it’s absolutely, entirely appropriate for you to expect political responses from your governors and from your legislators,” Loughry said. “The judiciary should be the nonpolitical branch of government.”

Another reform discussed at the forum involves judicial recusal. Chafin said Caperton v. Massey, a judicial election spending case from West Virginia that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave the state a “black eye.” You can learn more about the candidates’ views on recusal reform from Gavel Grab.

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