Big Coal Co. Wins in Recusal Dustup; ABC Claims CEO Scuffled With Producer

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The West Virginia Supreme Court has once again overturned a $50 million verdict against the nation’s fourth largest coal company, but that apparently didn’t stop the winning company’s chief executive officer from getting into a parking lot scuffle with an ABC producer.

The state high court decided to rehear the case against Massey Energy Co. after photographs surfaced showing the company’s CEO, Don Blankenship, vacationing with Chief Justice Elliott Maynard. In the rehearing, Maynard recused himself along with a second justice, Larry Starcher, who had criticized Blankenship’s $3 million campaign contribution to a third justice, Brent Benjamin.

Two replacement circuit justices were recruited to rehear the case. Benjamin voted with the majority in the 3-2 decision finding that the verdict should be vacated because the issues had been decided in a previous lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.).

The losing litigant was Harman Mining Co., a coal company that claims Massey interfered with its business and forced it into bankruptcy. The company plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and to review Benjamin’s refusal to recuse himself, the Wall Street Journal story says.

An ABC spokesman says Blankenship threatened to shoot a network producer and tore his shirt collar when the newsman tried to interview him in a parking lot, the Associated Press reports. But Blankenship’s version of events differs with the network’s story.

The network quotes Blankenship as saying, “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot.”

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says Blankenship grabbed the producer’s camera, snapped off a microphone, put his hand on the producer’s throat and tore his shirt collar. Blankenship said he was merely trying to move the camera to the side when the producer grabbed his arm. Blankenship said he then grabbed the producer’s chest to try to keep his balance.

He said he doesn’t remember making the shooting threat, but he might have made the comment.

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