Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | November 17, 2008

Lawyer Sanders says U.S. Supreme Court to look at the intersection of fundamental notions of due process and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to judge from West Virginia coal case.

justice-brent-benjaminIn February 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a West Virginia case that focuses on the role of big money in buying justice in a state supreme court.  In 2004, the A. T. Massey Coal Co. faced a $50-million verdict in a contract dispute with another coal firm. That year, its president and chief executive gave $3 million to candidate Brent Benjamin’s campaign for a seat on the state Supreme Court.  


Justice Benjamin won the seat; 60% of his funding came from the Massey executive. More specifically, Massey chairman Don Blankenship played a pivotal role in the political race by personally spending $3 million on behalf of an organization that directly or indirectly benefited the election of Justice Benjamin.

Shortly afterward, the West Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear Massey’s appeal in the contract dispute. Despite pleas that he recuse himself from ruling on the case, Justice Brent Benjamin cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 ruling that overturned the $50 million verdict against Massey.

The shocked companies appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The highest federal court will decide whether Justice Brent Benjamin’s refusal to recuse himself from the case violated the losing company’s due process rights.  The Appellants claim that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law to permit a judge to accept a huge million dollar contribution from a donor and then rule on his case.  Caperton vs. A. T. Massey Coal Co. will be heard in February 2009.


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