SCOTUS to Review Conflict of Interest on WV Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is usually inclined to let states police their own courts, but West Virginia is plainly out of control.

Don Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy Co., spent more than $3 million to help elect Justice Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia high court. Benjamin twice was part of 3-2 majorities that threw out a verdict in favor of Harman Mining Co. in its coal contract dispute with Massey.

The case on which Benjamin's vote provided Massey the margin of victory saved Massey $50 million. Not bad for a $3 million investment. [more ...]

It wouldn't be polite to say that Blankenship bought himself a judge, but it is reasonable to ask whether the due process right to an impartial decision-maker is consistent with Benjamin's participation in a decision that directly benefits his financial benefactor. The Supreme Court agreed to review the West Virginia Supreme Court's decision -- specifically, Blankenship's refusal to recuse himself from the case. If the Supreme Court applies any sort of smell test, Benjamin's conduct will stink up the Court.

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    Sirica Rule (none / 0) (#1)
    by Lacy on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 07:52:19 AM EST
    At the time Benjamen refused to recuse himself,he cited to the press  the "Sirica Rule", wherein Judge Sirica had refused to recuse himself from Watergate cases when challenged by the defense that his prior rulings suggested he would rule against them in the future. So that "rule" is that expectation of an adverse ruling is not grounds to request a recusal.

    So, incredibly, Benjamen thereby equated having his position on the WV Supreme Court literally bought by a defendant who had a $50 million case waiting on the docket as no different from a situation in which a defendant feared a judge's honest judicial interpretations!

    Indeed, Benjamen actually claimed that there is

    Oops. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Lacy on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 07:58:54 AM EST
    (Sorry, cat assisted post above.)

    Indeed, Benjamen actually claimed there is an equivalence between someone buying a favored judge's presence on a court with legitimate judicial discretion!

    V.P. Dick (none / 0) (#3)
    by weltec2 on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 01:28:09 PM EST
    I dream of conflict of interest hearings with Vice Pres Dick on the hot seat.

    Not polite . . . (none / 0) (#4)
    by JDB on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 05:21:38 PM EST
    It wouldn't be polite to say that Blankenship bought himself a judge

    No, but it would be accurate.  Or, at least, it appears to be accurate.  Thankfully, Don's other friend on the court, "Spike" Maynard, was defeated in the primary and the GOP/Chamber of Commerce candidate was defeated in the general.

    let's say, (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Sun Nov 16, 2008 at 05:27:40 AM EST
    for the sake of argument, that the good judge was in now influenced by his friend's donation to his re-election campaign. let's say (again, for the sake of argument) that his decisions in the cases were based solely on the facts and law. all that said, it still has the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    judges need to be impartial, in both fact and appearance. clearly, judge benjamen has a problem at least with the latter.

    that he was blind to this is reason enough for the USSC to reverse the decisions.