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Supreme Court Caperton v. Massey decision "welcome news," UMWA says

June 8, 2009
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UMWA statement regarding U.S. Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. Massey

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

“The decision by the United States Supreme Court issued today reversing the decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in the Caperton v. Massey case is welcome news for all those interested in seeing justice done in West Virginia and elsewhere free from the taint of big-money corporate influence.

“Justice is supposed to be blind, but it was not in this case. The Supreme Court has acted correctly to restore the public’s confidence that judgements rendered by our court system cannot be bought and sold.

“The facts of this case are well known. Massey Energy engaged in shady business practices and put Hugh Caperton’s company, Harman Mining, out of business. Massey was found guilty of this by a Boone County jury, but appealed that decision all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

“While that appeal was waiting to be heard, Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent $3 million in support of the campaign of a little-known lawyer, Brent Benjamin, who was running for a seat on that court. Benjamin won, and then refused to recuse himself from hearing the Caperton case. He surprised no one by voting in favor of Massey and overturning the jury verdict. Caperton then took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court’s decision made it clear: ‘Blankenship’s campaign efforts had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing Justice Benjamin on the case.’ The Court went on to say that, ‘Blankenship’s extraordinary contributions were made at a time when he had a vested stake in the outcome...there was here a serious, objective risk of actual bias that required Justice Benjamin’s recusal.’

“This is an important case to the UMWA. The workers at Harman Mining are our members. When Massey put the company out of business, it put our members out of work, with no health care benefits. The union stepped in and paid those benefits for some time, and many of them were eligible for retiree health care coverage from the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds.

“UMWA members who worked at Harman are owed in excess of $13 million for past and future health care obligations. They and the union are looking forward to this money being repaid to them, and soon.”

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