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Mining exec asks for new trial after justices step down

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  1. Freedom of Information
A coal executive has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to reconsider its dismissal of a $50 million jury verdict…

A coal executive has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to reconsider its dismissal of a $50 million jury verdict against competitor Massey Energy after improper relationships between sitting justices and Massey executives came to light, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Hugh Caperton, the owner of Harman Mining Co., had sued Massey for unfair business practices and was awarded $50 million by a jury. But the state Supreme Court overturned the award on two separate occasions.

The court reconsidered its first dismissal when Justice Elliot Manyard stepped down after it became apparent he had communicated and vacationed with Massey executive Don Blankenship.

Then, on Jun. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the $3 million Blankenship donated to Justice Brent Benjamin’s election campaign created a conflict of interest for that judge as well.

The relationships between West Virginia justices and Massey executives also became the subject of a protracted public records dispute filed by The Associated Press. The news organization had requested emails between Justice Maynard and Massey executives and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking for the records’ release.

In a 4-1 ruling, however, the West Virginia Supreme Court decided that personal e-mail messages on government accounts are not public records, even when they are between a judge and a party to a pending case.