FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Greed, Corruption and Big Coal

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

Check out this cast of characters.

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy. He lives in a big house.

Hugh Caperton, a mine owner, who alleges that Massey drove him out of business. He lives in a big house.

Scott Segal, one of the wealthiest trial lawyers in West Virginia. And his wife, Robin Jean Davis, Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court. They live in one of the biggest houses in West Virginia.

Lawyers Bruce Stanley and David Fawcett. They have been suing Massey for over 14 years now. (The weird thing? Both Stanley and Fawcett work for big corporate law firms in Pittsburgh. Stanley for Reed Smith and Fawcett first for Buchanan Ingersoll and then for Reed Smith.)

Larry Starcher. He’s the former populist Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court who turned over his diary to Laurence Leamer.

Based on that diary and on years of reporting, Leamer has written a remarkable book The Price of Justice: A Story of Greed and Corruption (Times Books, 2013.)

Lawyers are generally familiar with the nutshell version of this story.

Caperton alleges that Massey destroyed his mining business by reneging on a contract to buy coal.

A jury in West Virginia agrees with Caperton and awards him $50 million.

Blankenship vows he’s not going to pay and fights the verdict.

But the West Virginia Supreme Court is split. And so Blankenship takes it upon himself to elect the next West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

He dumps $3 million into the campaign and gets Benjamin elected.

When Caperton’s case reaches the West Virginia Supreme Court, Benjamin sides with Massey and the Court overturns the verdict.

Caperton appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court which sends it back to West Virginia saying, in effect, you can’t buy a Justice’s seat and then have that Justice vote for you in a case.

Benjamin recuses himself. But even with that, the West Virginia Supreme Court overturns the Caperton verdict.
Caperton goes to Virginia (where his mine was located) and sues Massey there. The lower court leamerpricekicks Caperton out. But just recently after the book goes to press the Virginia Supreme Court overturns the lower court’s decision and rules that Caperton’s case can be heard in Virginia.

So, Caperton has life.

That’s the nutshell.

But then come the details.

Let’s start with Segal and Davis.

“Scott Segal is the most successful trial lawyer in West Virginia,” Leamer told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “And his wife, Robin Jean Davis, is a Justice of the Supreme Court of West Virginia. They live in what probably is the biggest house in West Virginia. It’s 20,000 square feet.”

“If I were making a movie, I’d have a scene of her leaving this house. It doesn’t look like a house. It looks like an enormous hotel.”

By the way, we asked Leamer about whether the book will be made into a movie.

“I probably will sign an option later this week,” he said. “I have someone who is interested.

I know they are trying to approach Aaron Sorkin to do the screenplay. He would be the best.”

Even though the book’s focus is on Caperton and Blankenship, Segal and Davis are more than just supporting characters.

People thought that because her husband made his millions suing on behalf of union workers, she would side with the liberal majority on the court.

But Leamer based on Starcher’s diary and account implies that she flipped to Blankenship’s side and an alignment with the conservatives on the court for less than righteous reasons.

Leamer says that for some strange reason, one of those conservatives Elliot “Spike” Maynard who took a poorly timed vacation to Europe with Blankenship photos with women were leaked to the press – was siding with Segal almost every time the trial lawyer appeared before the Court.

“I asked Segal about that,” Leamer said. “And he said it was just happenstance.”

It’s a seedy story.

And it get seedier check out the part about Davis, Justice Warren McGraw (who Benjamin defeated) and a guy named Tony Arbaugh.

Seedy.

But not more seedy than the story of Blankenship, whose focus on getting the coal out at all costs led to much corruption, pollution and death in the mines.

Remarkably though, Blankenship’s nemesis Bruce Stanley grew up in the same area of southern West Virginia as Blankenship. They both grew up in houses without indoor plumbing. Both poor. According to Leamer, they even look alike.

Could the same actor play both Bruce Stanley and Don Blankenship?

“They look alike,” Leamer says. “They could be brothers.”

And they are both idealists.

But in polar opposite ways.

“Blankenship thinks of himself as a true patriot,” Leamer says. “He doesn’t think of himself as this selfish, uncaring person. Even in electing Benjamin, that wasn’t corporate money. That was his own money. And he’s given a lot of money to try, unsuccessfully, to elect Republicans to the state legislature. He’s done these public events where he spends only his money. He was a Tea Party guy before the Tea Party.”

“He thinks the United Mine Workers is evil. He thinks federal safety inspectors are evil. He doesn’t understand why people think he’s a bad guy.”

“Stanley is an idealist too, but it’s a different kind of idealism.”

“Stanley is a political liberal. He thinks government should help people. He thinks the corporate reality has been hurtful to most people. He believes in justice, he fights for justice. He’s not a corporate lawyer. He’s the only lawyer at Reed Smith who is quite like that.”

One possible unsung hero of Leamer’s story?

The U.S. Attorney for West Virginia Booth Goodwin.

“Goodwin is a different sort of U.S. Attorney,” Leamer says. “He has systematically gone after (Massey officials.) And I think Blankenship will be next in the next few weeks.”

What makes you think that?

“Well, the last person who was convicted was asked by the judge who ordered you to do this?” Leamer said. “And he said the CEO. And if this is a conspiracy, who heads the conspiracy?”

“In many of the mines, Massey had these DAD’s Root Beer cups. Except it stood for Do as Don Says. Do exactly what Don Blankenship says in these mines. And so if there is a conspiracy, Don’s at the head.”

Have you spoken with Goodwin?

“I have not,” Leamer said. “But I know quite a bit of what is going on. And the fact that there is silence now, and there are no rumors and no gossip coming out of the case, to me is a very good sign.”

“And Blankenship fears an indictment himself. A couple of weeks ago on his web site Blankenship said that if they put him behind bars it will be political.”

(For the complete q/a format transcript of the Interview with Laurence Leamer, see 27 Corporate Crime Reporter 24(11), print edition only.]

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.

 

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail