The Selling of the judiciary

Great editorial in today’s NY Times which uses West Virginia as the Poster Child for special interests in courtrooms.

In West Virginia, meanwhile, the State Supreme Court’s handling of a case involving a large coal company, Massey Energy, took on a decidedly farcical flavor. For the second time, the appellate court threw out a $50 million verdict against Massey.

The court decided to rehear the case after photographs publicly surfaced of its chief justice, Elliott Maynard, vacationing in Monte Carlo with Massey’s chief executive, Don Blankenship, in 2006, while the matter was pending in the Supreme Court. The chief justice disqualified himself from the rehearing. So did another justice, Larry Starcher, because he had publicly criticized Blankenship and his company. The 3-to-2 outcome in favor of Massey was unchanged from the first round, which might not have been noteworthy except that the deciding vote was cast once again by Justice Brent Benjamin, who declined to recuse himself despite owing his election to the court to more than $3 million spent by Mr. Blankenship.

It’s great to see that more are calling for reform in judicial elections, it’s just sad that West Virginia has to be such a shining example of the need.

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