Justice for Sale

January 21, 2008 by susan
W. Virginia Chief Justice, Elliott Maynard

West Virginia Chief Justice Elliott Maynard -- would you romp on the Riviera with this man?
It's no news that gubmint is for sale. But usually we think of K Street making deals with members of congress -- people like Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham, or Enron executives serving on Dick Cheney's energy task force, and forget about the more independent and, theoretically, apolitical judicial branch.

So the photos of West Virginia Chief Justice Elliott Maynard and Don Blankenship, CEO of coal conglomerate Massey Energy, wining and dining together on the French Riviera while Blankenship's company was appealing a $50 million jury verdict against it to Justice Maynard's court, ($70 million with interest) should skewer that one. In November, 2007 Justice Maynard -- surprise -- voted with the 3-2 majority to throw out the ruling against Massey.

Last Friday, insisting he could be fair and impartial but that appearances might matter, Justice Maynard reconsidered and said he'd recuse himself from the Massey case --leaving it unclear what effect this will have on last November's ruling.

A second judge who joined Justice Maynard in favor of Massey, Justice Brent D. Benjamin, is also under pressure from plaintiffs to disqualify himself. Benjamin was elected to the court in 2004 with the help of more than $3 million in advertisements and other support from Massey CEO Don Blankenship. Blankenship, by the way, has been called the 7th scariest person in America by the enviro/green blog, Grist!

Most states, like Minnesota, are moving towards allowing more political -- and financial -- influences in judicial elections. One more thing to consider as we flail along toward the 2008 elections.

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