Massey Energy Co., on the losing end of the U.S. Supreme Courtï¿½s recent Caperton v. Massey decision, is at the heart of a new bid for a West Virginia judge to step down from hearing a case on grounds of an appearance of impropriety.
Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury of Mingo County, overseeing a major pollution lawsuit against Massey, is accused of failing to disclose a friendship with the company’s chief executive and of appointing a personal business partner as administrator of a medical monitoring fund, according to reports in the Charleston Gazette and the Associated Press
Kevin Thompson, a lawyer for hundreds of area residents, contended in court papers the situation amounted to “cronyism at its worst.”
Judge Thornsbury told the Charleston Gazette the allegations were unfounded and that he was not friends with Massey CEO Don Blankenship.
West Virginia judicial ethics has been getting attention around the nation. The high court was asked in Caperton whether a judge could be forced to step aside from cases involving major financial backers. In its landmark decision last month, the high court said that West Virginia Chief Justice Brent Benjamin wasï¿½constitutionally obligatedï¿½to recuse, becauseï¿½ Blankenship had spent $3 million to help elect him while appealing a case to overturn a $50 million jury award.
The latest recusal request reflects how ties between Blankenship and jurists continue to spark controversy. State Supreme Court Justice Elliott Maynard lost a primary in May after he was photographed on the French Riviera withï¿½ Blankenship.
In a related development, Massey has agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging West Virginiaï¿½s recusal law as unconstitutional, according to a Charleston Gazette news story.
The close relationships between Don Blankenship and West Virginia Supreme Court justices has been well-chronicled on Gavel Grab.