'The Price of Justice' recounts how attorneys tackled W.Va. coal, campaigns and cash

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Reed Smith attorney David Fawcett attracted celebrity status on an elevator at the law firm's Fifth Avenue headquarters Wednesday morning from admiring colleagues who said they have read or will read all about him in Laurence Leamer's "The Price of Justice."

The book, a true story of a small Virginia coal company operator's 15-year fight against a powerful coal company CEO, co-stars Mr. Fawcett's Reed Smith colleague, Bruce Stanley.

The author's account of how the two lawyers took on former Massey Energy chairman and CEO Don Blankenship is climbing up sales charts despite what Mr. Leamer called a small first print run. He was in town Wednesday to promote the book published by Henry Holt and Co., and for a reception at Reed Smith.

It was Mr. Blankenship's refusal to honor a contract with Hugh Caperton of Harman Development that led the two attorneys to the Supreme Courts of West Virginia and Virginia, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tale also involves corruption at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the influence of outsized campaign contributions on judicial elections, and Massey's checkered regulatory record, including the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29.

The book has been called a real-life version of John Grisham's "The Appeal," a 2008 fictional thriller about corporate campaign contributions tainting the court system.

Mr. Leamer became interested when his wife showed him a New York Times account of Mr. Caperton's U.S. Supreme Court case. Mr. Caperton was seeking a ruling on whether West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who joined that court's majority in throwing out a jury verdict ordering Massey to pay Mr. Caperton $50 million, should have recused himself because Mr. Blankenship's campaign contributions helped elect him to the court.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mr. Caperton's favor, sending the case back to West Virginia's highest court for a third hearing.

Once again, the court threw out the $50 million verdict against Massey. That sent Mr. Fawcett and Mr. Stanley back to Virginia to file a case that makes many of the same claims Mr. Caperton made in his original 1998 complaint filed in West Virginia.

"He's a man of unique courage and optimism," Mr. Fawcett said of their client. "We've been in a big war and we didn't win all the battles."

The author said the two attorneys make an interesting, but effective team. Mr. Fawcett, a former teacher, is ponderous and systematic, while Mr. Stanley, a former journalist who grew up in the same West Virginia coal fields as Mr. Blankenship, is spontaneous.

"They couldn't have invented two more different lawyers," he said. "You would think they would be at each other's throat in a day."

Mr. Leamer said their passion to obtain justice for Mr. Caperton and to stop Mr. Blankenship made them work effectively. He said that would not have been possible unless Reed Smith and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Mr. Fawcett's former firm, agreed to take the costly, time-consuming case on a contingency basis.

"When push came to shove, the management of both firms said we're going to do what's right," Mr. Leamer said.

Mr. Fawcett joined Reed Smith after Massey was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources, a Buchanan Ingersoll client.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941. First Published May 16, 2013 4:00 AM


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