The Price of Justice

Hugh Caperton’s back in the news, with a new trial against his West Virginia coal-mining enemy about to kick off,  just shortly before the release of a book detailing his nemesis’s attempts to buy off that state’s supreme court justices.

Remember Caperton? He’s the West Virginia coal-mining executive whose litigation against Massey Coal and its then chief Don Blankenship wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 2009 the justices held  that the failure of a state supreme court justice who’d received millions in campaign contributions from Blankenship to recuse himself when the dispute was before that court violated Caperton’s  due process rights.

Caperton had sued Massey in Virginia for breach of contract and won a $6 million jury verdict there.  He also sued Massey in West Virginia, asserting tort claims and claiming that the company and Blankenship intentionally tried to destroy him, and won a $50 million verdict there. It was that West Virginia verdict which eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well, Caperton’s case is still alive, despite being dismissed again by the West Virginia Supreme Court’s on the basis of a forum selection clause, which the court believed required Caperton to bring all his claims – contract and tort – in Virginia state court.

Caperton did just that in 2010, filing suit in Virginia — only to have his case once again dismissed by a court which held that he should have asserted his tort claims when he sued Massey for breach of contract in the earlier Virginia case.

Yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court breathed new life into Caperton’s case, saying that the lower court had erred in dismissing his case.  Caperton should be ready to go to trial within a matter of months, his attorney Bruce Stanley said in this report from On the Case.  According to Stanley:

For Caperton, it’s been a long time coming.  . . . . He was effectively blacklisted from holding a top job at a mining company after his run-in with Massey. Today he’s a salaried employee at an underground mine safety equipment firm. “This has been tough on him and his family,” said Stanley, who’s been handling the litigation since 2000. “Both of us have watched our children grow up with this hanging over his head.”

In the meantime, Don Blankenship’s cavorting with members of the West Virginia Supreme Court is now the subject of this book, “The Price of Justice,” due out in May.

Here’s an excerpt from the preview:

Don Blankenship, head of Massey Energy since the early 1990s, ran an industry that provides nearly half of America’s electric power. But wealth and influence weren’t enough for Blankenship and his company, as they set about destroying corporate and personal rivals, challenging the Constitution, purchasing the West Virginia judiciary, and willfully disregarding safety standards in the company’s mines—in which scores died unnecessarily.

As Blankenship hobnobbed with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice in France, his company polluted the drinking water of hundreds of citizens while he himself fostered baroque vendettas against anyone who dared challenge his sovereignty over coal country. Just about the only thing that stood in the way of Blankenship’s tyranny over a state and an industry was a pair of odd-couple attorneys, Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley, who undertook a legal quest to bring justice to this corner of America. From the backwoods courtrooms of West Virginia they pursued their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and to a dramatic decision declaring that the wealthy and powerful are not entitled to purchase their own brand of law.


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