In one of the cases mentioned above, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia justice should not have participated in state court decisions overturning a $50 million judgment against A.T. Massey Coal Co., whose chief executive had been a major contributor to the justice’s political coffers. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself from the cases because the A.T. Massey campaign contributions created a serious risk that Benjamin would be biased in the case. Benjamin twice was the deciding vote in West Virginia High Court rulings that threw out the judgment against A.T. Massey, a unit of Massey Energy Co.
The $50 million verdict stems from a business fraud lawsuit filed against A.T. Massey by Harman Development Corp., a privately-held mining company based in Beckley, West Virginia. Don Blankenship, the A.T. Massey executive, contributed more than $3 million to Benjamin for his 2004 campaign for the state High Court, which represented more than half of the campaign funds for Benjamin’s political campaign. The Supreme Court’s decision reversed the West Virginia court ruling for Massey and sent the case back for further proceedings. Hopefully, this decision will force some meaningful reform in how we elect state court judges.
Source: Associated Press
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