An Appeal to Remember

Today in Caperton v. A.T. Masey Coal Company, the Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself from hearing an appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against the defendants, because the company’s CEO had been a major campaign donor. Masey Coal CEO Don Blankenship donated $3 million to Judge Brent Benjamin to help him get elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Judge Benjamin was part of a majority 3-2 vote, which overruled the jury verdict finding Masey Coal liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations.  Writing for the majority Justice Kennedy said, “We find that, in all the circumstances of this case, due process requires recusal.” He further noted, “In an election decided by fewer than 50,000votes, Blankenship’s campaign contributions—compared to the totalamount contributed to the campaign, as well as the total amount spent in the election—had a significant and disproportionate influence on the outcome. And the risk that Blankenship’s influence engendered actual bias is sufficiently substantial that it ‘must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented’.” The Court remanded the case for re-examination of the overturned verdict.

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