U.S. Supreme Court to hear Massey case

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The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear a case involving campaign contributions Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship made during a West Virginia Supreme Court race -- contributions that critics alleged played a major role in electing a justice who subsequently overturned a $50 million ruling against Massey.

Lawyers who sought the appeal hope the nation's highest court will issue clearer guidelines for when a judge must excuse himself from a case involving a major campaign contributor.

"We are confident the high court will not allow this case to stand, because people would have a license to contribute vast sums of money to elect judges with the expectation that those judges can then decide their case," said David Fawcett, a Pittsburgh attorney.

He represents Hugh Caperton, a West Virginia coal company owner who sued a Massey affiliate for fraud in 1998. A lower court awarded Mr. Caperton $50 million in damages in 2002, a decision Massey appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Mr. Caperton's attorneys asked two justices to recuse themselves, including Justice Brent Benjamin, who won a seat in 2004 after defeating incumbent Warren McGraw. Justice Benjamin's campaign benefitted from $3 million in contributions made by Mr. Blankenship.

Justice Benjamin declined their request. The court ruled in Massey's favor twice by a 3-2 margin, with Justice Benjamin casting the deciding vote both times.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Len Boselovic can be reached at lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.

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