Hugh Caperton: “I’ve spent every nickel I’ve ever had trying to right this wrong.”
to Benjamin’s campaign committee,
while other donors chipped in the
remaining $330,000 of the $845,000
the committee raised.
Then Benjamin went public.
“Nobody, including the people we
practice law with, knew who Brent
Benjamin was,” says Caperton lawyer Bruce E. Stanley of Pittsburgh.
“Then the billboards started popping up.”
They asked a good question:
“Who is Brent Benjamin?” Stanley
realized a political machine had
started its engine. Benjamin drove it
right over McGraw in the November
2004 election, garnering 53 percent
of the vote.
By November 2007, the Caperton
case arrived at the state high court
and was promptly ushered out on
a 3-2 vote that reversed the $50 million award and included Benjamin
in the majority. Benjamin supplied
the decisive third vote on rehearing
in April 2008 to again pitch the judgment.
Benjamin never acknowledged
Caperton’s disqualification motions.
Caperton’s lawyers never got to argue them orally or received an explanation for the decision.
MEANWHILE, BLANKENSHIP’S RELA-
tions with other members of the
high court began receiving notice
in early 2008 when photos surfaced
of Blankenship vacationing on the
French Riviera with Justice Elliott
“Spike” Maynard. Though he insisted he paid his own way and did
nothing wrong, Maynard withdrew
from the coal case in January 2008.
His term as a justice ended last year
with his defeat in the May primary.
He did not respond to requests for
Meanwhile, Justice Larry V.
Starcher, an especially vociferous
and public critic of Massey and
its practices, had a run-in with
Blankenship, who not only wanted
him off the Caperton matter but
also has asked the U.S. Supreme
Court to use his harsh attacks to
disqualify Starcher from another
Massey case, Massey Energy Co. v.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
Starcher, who retired in January,
dissented in the first Caperton decision but withdrew before the rehearing. He declined comment, but in
his written recusal he hinted that
Blankenship had disrupted the state
supreme court’s business.
“The simple fact of the matter is
that the pernicious effects of Mr.
Blankenship’s bestowal of his personal wealth, political tactics and
‘friendship’ have created a cancer
in the affairs of this court,” Starcher
Benjamin did not write an opinion
when the court again held for Massey on April 3. Caperton asked the
U.S. Supreme Court for cert on July
2. Three weeks later, Benjamin
added a concurrence to the state
court’s April ruling.
Caperton had not accused
Benjamin of acting improperly or
actually being prejudiced by the
campaign contributions. But from
Benjamin’s perspective, actual bias
is all that counts in West Virginia.
“The fundamental question raised
by the appellees and the dissenting
opinion herein is whether, in a free
society, we should value ‘apparent or
political justice’ more than ‘actual
justice,’ ” Benjamin wrote in the
concurrence, filed July 28.
“Actual justice is based on actu-alities,” he asserted. “Through its
written decisions, a court gives that
transparency of decision-making