Welcome Laurence Leamer (Leamer.com) (HuffingtonPost) and Host Mike Stark (editor – FossilAgenda.com) (Mike’s Video – CPAC: Young People and Climate Change)

The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption

The Price of Justice, the new Lawrence Leamer book, tells the true story of two lawyers – Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley – and the roller coaster of justice they’ve been riding since 1998.

To Fawcett and Stanley, the case appeared simple enough in 1998: Massey Energy, led by CEO Don Blankenship, materially breached a contract with Hugh Caperton’s Harmon Mining Company with the intent of forcing Harmon into bankruptcy. Heaping insult upon injury, Blankenship fraudulently feigned interest in purchasing Caperton’s mine so that he could acquire inside trade knowledge – knowledge he then leveraged to his advantage and Caperton’s detriment.

In truth, the lawyers had it right. It was a simple case. The paper trail was damning. After a two month trial, the jury required fewer than 5 hours to work through the math and return a verdict $50 million for Harmon and Caperton.

If the story ended there it would have been interesting enough. Blankenship’s ruthless business machinations were villainous, and from Dallas, to Breaking Bad, to There Will Be Blood, we’re often drawn to the drama of bare-knuckle and lawless capitalism.

But the story doesn’t end there. Indeed, our story has just begun.

You see, Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley didn’t know West Virginia. And they damned sure didn’t know Don Blankenship.

Blankenship simply wasn’t going to lose to Hugh Caperton. Not in West Virginia. No way. He appealed to West Virginia’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeals.

During oral arguments, West Virginia’s Chief Justice Spike Maynard conspicuously left the bench while Caperton’s lawyers made their case, only to return the second they concluded. When the decision was announced, he voted with the 3-2 majority to overturn the $50 million verdict against Massey. Of course, Maynard did retroactively withdraw his vote and recuse himself from further consideration of the case… after pictures surfaced of Blankenship and Maynard frolicking together on the French Riviera – while Maynard was considering Blankenship’s appeal.

But that’s a detour… merely one colorful thread Leamer expertly weaves into his extraordinary tale.

The Price of Justice is, at its core, the story of a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2009. In a 5-4 split, Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, held in Caperton v. Massey that “extreme facts” created a “probability of bias” such that a judge’s refusal to recuse violated the Due Process clause of the Constitution.

The case wasn’t about Spike Maynard.

It was about Don Blankenship and another judge, Brent Benjamin.

In short, judges are elected in West Virginia. Don Blankenship didn’t want Justice Warren McGraw of West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals to hear his case. So while his case was pending, Blankenship spent $3 million on a judicial election to replace him with an obscure attorney named Brent Benjamin.

$3 million buys a lot of media in West Virginia, and Blankenship hired a team of ruthless consultants and formed a PAC named “For the Sake of the Children” to smear Judge McGraw as a coddler of pedophiles.

It worked. McGraw lost. A lot of people were stunned at the result, as a rule incumbent judges didn’t lose in West Virginia. Evidently $3 million has a way of setting precedent.

From Blankenship’s perspective, it must have been a thrilling victory. When Justice Benjamin refused to recuse from hearing the Massey appeal… Well, have you ever seen Sylvester with a mouthful of Tweety? That was Blankenship. And when Benjamin joined the majority in reversing the $50 million verdict? Well, how did you feel when you last made an investment that yielded a +2667% return?

Now it was Caperton’s turn to appeal. And the only place left to go was the Supreme Court of the United States…

One could be forgiven for believing that when a case is overturned by SCOTUS, that’s the end of the line. Not so. Join us in the comments as we unfurl the rest of the story…

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

126 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Laurence Leamer, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption”

BevW July 6th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Laurence, Welcome to the Lake.

Mike, Welcome back to the Lake, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
PC = F5 key, MAC = Command+R keys

If you want to ask a question – just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.


If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button under the number, then type your response in the box, Submit Comment. (Using Submit Comment will refresh your browser when you reply to a comment/ask a question.)

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Good afternoon everyone! I hope your holiday weekend was extraordinary! To that end, boy have we got a classic “Only in America” story for you today!

And thanks so much for joining us Lawrence.

So let’s begin, with a jolt…

A question for you Lawrence: is Don Blankenship more Snerdley Whiplash or Mr. Burns?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

He’s a bad guy all his own, an extreme example of pure unfettered capitalism without any control or concern.

dakine01 July 6th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Laurence and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Mike, welcome back.

Laurence, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but isn’t this just a more egregious result than is usual in the cases where judges are elected (or have to be voted on for retention? I do see the irony of all this though with the SCOTUS ruling even when we’ve seen SCOTUS members refuse to recuse themselves for obvious conflicts.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

The book is fantastic, one you cannot put down. Im really looking forward to an update, and I was very sorry to notice the dedication. Thank you for a remarkable book. The characters are fascinating and so well-drawn.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hi Laurence and welcome. I’m read most of the book. It’s very hard to put down!

Just as a side note – if, when you’re replying to a comment, you hit the reply icon in the lower right hand corner of the comment, then we’ll all know which comment you’re replying to.

I’m looking forward to the discussion today. You’ve done a great job telling an important story.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

You got it, That’s why it’s such an important subject. It’s not just a legal thriller.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 6

The book ends with a poem. How can you say something bad about a book that ends with a poem.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Yes, Blankenship is a one of a kind villain. Let’s come back to him as the Salon evolves.

I found writing the intro a challenge. After reading the book, it’s difficult to look back and answer a fundamental question: “What was it about?”

How do you answer the question? Was it about the lawyers? Is it an unauthorized biography of Blankenship? Is it about flaws in certain state judicial systems? Is it about a corrupt bench in West Virginia? There are so many threads, any of which could stand on their own. And you strung them all together masterfully. But how do you answer the question: What is The Price of Justice about?

BevW July 6th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Did you know Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley before the story of Massey Energy broke?

Elliott July 6th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Hello to both of you,
An incredible story, thanks for writing the book about.

Laurence were you ever threatened in any way as you researched this? Blankenship is obviously not a man to cross.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

It’s ultimately about justice and the fourteen-year-long struggle to hold Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, to account for his misbehavior. There are all kinds of side roads but again and again that’s what it comes back to.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, which I read first, you said that one of the fondest memories of your research was the lunch you had with Dave Fawcett’s late father. Could you share with us what you so enjoyed about the lunch?

Mommybrain July 6th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Laurence, I’m enjoying the book, although spikes in blood pressure aren’t really all that enjoyable. I lived in
Wise VA, worked in Norton for several years in the mid seventies and am very fond of the people I met. Strip mining was the thing then, which wreaked its own havoc on the towns and hollers. Every mining family I met had a relative dying an agonizing death from black lung…literally every family…yet they had this superstitious thing they used to do.

“Lucky, lucky coal dust” they would say as they passed cars covered in the stuff. They’d lick a forefinger, swipe it along the dust leaving a trail on the car. Then they would wipe the dust on their palm, smack the palm with a fist and say “bring me some luck”. I don’t think it worked.

Blankenship is like every other coal operator I knew back then, too. Arrogant, sure of their power and vindictive against the growing backlash from the younger generation. They ignored federal laws mandating restoration of the mountainsides they destroyed. In turn, those mountainsides destroyed the downhill towns every spring during runoff. The people in those towns were so beaten down by life all they had the energy for was a half-hearted rebuild of their village. I heard a lot of griping, but rarely in public. They despised but needed the coal companies.

What is your sense of how West Virginia feels about Massey and Blankenship?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Elliott @ 11

I was worried when Blankenship was still at Massey. I don’t think he would have done anything. But I can imagine one of Massey “members,”, say some guy who worked on a bulldozer in mountain removal making twenty bucks an hour. He knows this is the only job he’s ever going to have making such money, and it’s enraged at anybody that wants to stop mountaintop removal. He hears about this outsider writing a book in which Don won’t look good and he decides to pop him off. That I can see. When I was down there on my book tour in coal country, Mari-Lynn Evans, a documentary film maker was there as well for one event. When she left she was followed for an hour by an SUV with darkened windows.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to Laurence Leamer @ 8

Something to look forward to.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

To that end, there has been some recent speculation regarding an active criminal investigation related to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster (29 miners killed in 2010). It was, of course, a Massey mine, and Blankenship was very hands-on with regards to moving coal. Have you heard anything you can share about the possibility of some real accountability being visited upon Mr. Blankenship?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to Mommybrain @ 14

I totally agree. When I was working in Eccles No Six outside Beckley forty years ago, there was a sense of promise and Beckley had a certain charm. No longer. It’s like almost every other town down there with boarded up windows and despairing people. I just don’t know what these people are going to do when they realize that this Friends of Coal business was a total con, a way to keep people from thinking about the future. The news about coal is so bad these days. It’s not coming back and probably neither is half of the state.

Elliott July 6th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

When she left she was followed for an hour by an SUV with darkened windows.

oo creepy.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 17

Oh yeah, I think Blankenship will be criminally indicted. US Attorney Booth Goodwin is going after Blankenship’s subordinates with great determination. He’ll get him, I believe, but thanks to Congress and the coal industry, the laws that should have sent Don away for decades may only give him a slap on the wrist.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 17

Is this a response to Comment #12? If you hit the Reply icon on the bottom right of a comment, it’ll make it easier to follow along. Thanks.

Elliott July 6th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Ha

I see you are in his wiki

Blankenship is featured in Laurence Leamer’s best-selling 2013 nonfiction work, “The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption” (New York: Henry Holt). The book portrays Blankenship as the embodiment of corruption and lawlessness in Appalachian coal country, and details Blankenship’s countless safety violations, his complicity in the deaths of scores of miners, the massive environmental destruction he has wrought through mountaintop removal and ongoing environmental violations, and political corruption that includes the buying of a West Virginia State Supreme Court justice, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Blankenship’s lawyers. [4]

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

What is Friends of Coal? I don’t believe I’ve come across that in the book.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Judging from the comments, folks are really interested in your experiences in coal country. Of course, The Price of Coal primarily tells the story of Hugh Caperton’s case – and we will be discussing that soon – but there are several other cases – Upper Big Branch, the town whose water was poisoned, the two widows… You obviously spent a significant amount of time in Appalachia. Can you offer any observations? Did you make any lasting friends in coal country? Is there life after coal?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Great. Friends of Coal is the organization that promotes the coal industry. It is anti regulation, anti environmentalist, anti reform. Since Blankenship took the lead role in destroying the union, Friends of Coal is the place that miners can go for a sense of identification. I find it almost Fascist in its ideology. It brooks no criticism of the industry. If you speak honestly about the future of the coal industry, whether you’re a teacher, a minister or a politician, you’re going to be in trouble.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Ugh. How disheartening.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 24

Funny you asked that. I got an email from a guy I worked with in Eccles No. 6. He made a joke about me getting out and him staying in. I thought my fellow miners were terrific. And the people in coal country are something special. I love that they can’t stand pretension, people showing off. They genuine and probably naive in that they trust people more than they should.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Did you miss my question at comment #13? I’ll repeat it. I’m wondering why the lunch you had with Dave Fawcett’s late father is one of the fondest memories of your research.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 26

The only answer is for people to stand up. The problem is that so many of those who might do that have left. But there’s an undertone of immense angry that will show itself some way one day.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 28

I missed that. I had a difficult with mine. I hated my father when I was you. I couldn’t stand to look at him. That was my fault not his, and I came to appreciate what a wonderful man he was. I don’t know if Dave hated his father but he couldn’t stand being around him that much and it took him years to work it out. When I had lunch with Mr. Fawcett, I kept thinking of my father. Just before Dave’s father died, he showed him the pages of the book. Dave took his dad’s death hard and I thought the one thing I could do was to dedicate the book to his memory. I know his dad would have been proud.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Elliott @ 22

Sometimes they get it right.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I’ve never been to that part of the country, but I understand that the beauty of the area has really been seriously messed with creating economic and livability issues. And in front of all that is the illness and early deaths of the miners and how that affects families and friends.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I had forgotten all about that! You worked in the mines in an “under cover” capacity to write a long-form magazine article. Was it the New York Times Magazine? Harpers? Either way, it reminds me that you weren’t writing from the perspective of someone parachuting into a foreign land… No! You had personal knowledge of the people and culture. Yet somehow your presentation of Blankenship seems almost generous in terms of its lack of subjectivity. You report and leave readers to make their own value judgments. That’s a lot to bottle up. Were you writing through clenched teeth the entire time? Did you need a mouth-guard when you slept to minimize damage from teeth grinding?

BearCountry July 6th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hello to you, Laurence and Mike. Thanks for coming here. Other than being able to put names to specific incidents and the people killed, how different is this story in terms of other members of the ruling 1%? This is a glaring example of the impunity of the motu. I will say that he has had to spend a lot of money in his case as most of the 1% have not, e.g. Citibank, boa, wells fargo in spite of their law breaking.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

How beautiful that you recognize that your father was a good man. I’m tearing up reading your response about both yours and Dave’s evolving feelings with your fathers, ultimately making peace with them. Thank you for sharing so intimately.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 32

It’s funny when you do down there and drive those roads, you’re not going to see mountaintop removal. You’ll see guards on certain roads. Let me tell you a secret. The law says that they can’t destroy cemeteries and there are all kinds of family plots up there. So just tell the guard you’re going to your family plot and he’ll have to let you up. And you’ll see what they’re doing.

Mommybrain July 6th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Laurence, how do the people you met in WV feel about Blankenship? Is he more admired or feared?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 33

Blankenship thinks he’s doing right and I had to give him his say.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to BearCountry @ 34

Since I’ve written The Price of Justice, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get an email from somebody telling me the story of some horrendous injustice wanting me to write about it.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

What are the Feds doing about all this? You certainly made it clear how much the regulations were disregarded.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I did exactly that in April of this year. Route 603 in Norton, Virginia. And yes, from the main road, all is beautiful. From the coal roads, you want to cry. If people could only see what passes for “remediation”.

That said, I wouldn’t make that trip alone again. At least not in my hybrid Ford Fusion.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to Mommybrain @ 37

The 6,000 or so people who worked for Massey and their families were for the most pro Massey. But that’s all over, and I don’t think you’ll find very many people who would applaud him. I have a feeling there are some in the power elite who would like to see him go down taking the blame for so much that has gone wrong. But if he gets indicted I can easily imagine him telling tells about government officials and what they told him he could get away with.

BevW July 6th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Massey Energy, led by CEO Don Blankenship, materially breached a contract with Hugh Caperton’s Harmon Mining Company with the intent of forcing Harmon into bankruptcy.

What was the original criminal action? What did Massey to to Caperton? What was the contract that was breached?

Elliott July 6th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 41

I know the coal region of Eastern Pennsylvania, the devastation is soul sucking, really. Sucks the life out of the community. And that’s without taking off the top of the mountain.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to RevBev @ 40

Well the feds in the person of US Attorney Booth Goodwin is working hard investigating. He’s already nailed for people and is sending them to prison. Bruce Stanley, one of the heroes of my book, has sued the federal government saying the MSHA inspectors at Aracoma failed in their duties and two miners died because of that failure. I think in the next few weeks you’ll be reading something important about that case.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Elliott @ 44

Yes, and you think of the millions of dollars made from that coal and the local people have nothing.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Is the woman judge still on the West Virginia court?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to BevW @ 43

Caperton’s coal mine in western Virginia had a longterm contract with a company to buy all its coal. Massey Energy bought that company. Blankenship looked at the price he was paying for Caperton’s coal, and he thought it was too much. So he declared force majeure. That’s a business term common in contracts. It means if there’s an act of God, a fire, a flood, an earthquake, a strike, you can get out of the contract. This wasn’t that and when Caperton threatened to sue Blankenship said go ahead, we spend a million dollars a month on lawyers and we’ll destroy you.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

The same thing is happening now with the huge boom in fracking for natural gas. In fact, that’s the one exception I have with the book. You said that coal is more environmentally harmful than natural gas.

Josh Fox, who’s made the Gasland movie about the damage of fracking and Gasland II about the lack of regulations, was on TV the other night saying the opposite. What he said was that if you look at the whole life cycle, fracking is worse than coal. He said that natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but that the methane coming out of the wells makes fracking much more environmentally destructive.

I’ve seen Gasland. Gasland II is debuting on HBO this Monday night so I may know more on the subject then.

Mommybrain July 6th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Hoo boy, I’d like to hear those tales! The only way the Bankenships of the world get away with stuff is the government officials who ignore rules, looking the other way at infractions. It’s as if regulations never existed.

I think you did a great job describing Blankenship and his calm yet menacing mein. Do you think he might be a sociopath?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to RevBev @ 47

Justice Davis is still on the court and like everybody in power in the state including almost all the newspapers and television stations, she hasn’t said a word about The Price of Justice.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
In response to Mommybrain @ 50

He’s the definition of a sociopath. Read in the book how he treated his maid. He was crazily obsessed with details giving her pages of things she had to do and throwing the food at her when she brought back the wrong breakfast from McDonald’s.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I loved your story of the photos of the trip of Blank and the other judge. What I loved was the bravado of the folks who worked in the court; reminded me of “The Help.” Just never know who will decide they’ve had enough. The book is a joy and a trip to read.;)

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 49

That’s why everybody has to keep their eye on the ball. I got a buddy, Ian Urbina, who is a reporter for the New York Times. He’s done some tough reporting on this subject and all hell brought loose. I don’t see him or anybody else writing much more in those pages.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

How has the book been received other than that?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to RevBev @ 53

How about the scene when the Supreme Court of West Virginia decides Caperton in one minute. They saved Blankenship seventy million dollars.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I’m going to invoke some host-ly prerogative and try to direct the conversation back to the book, because I think you wrote the book with the idea that the underlying issue transcends all the problems related to coal. Coal country made an excellent backdrop, but really, the book is about a new trading floor where the commodity for sale is justice (or at least judicial outcomes).

Aside from coal, West Virginia, I thought, was a particularly apt setting. Before Caperton, WV was known as a plaintiff’s lawyer’s paradise. If a federal tort case could be brought, savvy lawyers often chose WV because awards were generally larger and rules were more favorable to plaintiffs. But it didn’t have to be that way. Justice McGraw was just one of many contributing jurists that made WV case law so plaintiff-friendly.

I thought that if anything Blankenship ever said could be considered remotely defensible, it was that his participation in the judicial elections was a necessary check on that of the plaintiff lawyer’s lobby. And if he hadn’t had his Caperton appeal pending, I think that argument would have been absolutely valid. In fact, so far as Caperton goes, it seems to me that Benjamin is more culpable than Blankenship.

Don’t get me wrong. I abhor the Chamber of Commerce and the whole idea of fattest wallet wins in court. And judicial elections compound the problem. But so long as we have them, don’t you see a line-drawing problem?

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

The view of the legal system was scary, even more than Blank really. And the pursuit to get to the Supreme Court was so well described; nice description of Olsen.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 55

It’s really strange. It’s gotten some of the best reviews of my career, but it’s weird where it hasn’t been reviewed. I’ve written fourteen books and all my previous books except perhaps the first was reviewed in the Washington Post, my hometown paper. The book review editor told me a couple months ago they were reviewing it but it hasn’t appeared. I’ve had calls from at least half a dozen New York Times reporters saying what an important book it is. Yet the New York Times Review has not reviewed it. One of the daily reviewers, Dwight Gartner, grew up in West Virginia. I figured he’d review it. But no. It’s strange but the great thing is that there are other ways to get your message out, and I’ve been very lucky.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 2:58 pm

What’s blowing me away is the intimate detail you present in the book. I keep looking at the notes in the back to see where you got the info and while much of it is from the transcripts of the court and some from newspapers, a lot is from interviews. I am absolutely impressed with what must be great interviewing skills on your part.

What were some of your favorite interviews? Were there surprises?

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Do you do book signings at book stores? We have a great forum.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Another true villain, and almost Democratic Senate candidate to replace JayRock. There’s a lot we don’t know about her. But she’s been ruthlessly poisonous to Caperton.

I wonder if Blankenship has some dirt on her or her husband (a powerful plaintiff’s attorney).

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I wonder, if at the NY Times, that goes together with Ian Urbina being reined in.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 57

I tried to be fair about that. I think the massive amounts of money in these elections is the problem. Blankenship spent $3.5 million to elect Brent Benjamin to the court. When the trial lawyers woke to what was happen and that the liberal incumbent might lose, they threw in a couple million dollars. Most of it was done anonymously and it looks like a couple of the contributions were half a million dollars apiece. If McGraw won, these guys were likely have gone to him and told him what they had done and said we hope you’ll continue being the wonderful judge you are. So I say take these massive amounts of money out of the whole damn system.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 60

I was lucky that I had the full cooperation of Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley and they provided me access to the entire legal record. I read the six-week Caperton trial transcript twice. I guess the interview that meant the most to me was Tony Arbaugh. He’s a poor kid that got destroyed by Blankenship. He was used as a device to elect Benjamin by saying that McGraw had voted to free a child rapist, i.e. Tony. I think he’s getting out prison in two weeks in part because of my book.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 62

I think you’re referring to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Her father went to prison for his corruption as governor and she is absolutely the worst of the old politics. It would be shameful is she wins that seat and take West Virginia back even further.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 63

I don’t know about. I just know that it’s an endless struggle to get the truth out there and there are so many stories worth doing that don’t get done.
Often it’s a case of there not being enough reporters, enough money and enough time.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Tony was the next person I was going to ask about. His fate has been weighing on me. Congratulations on having that impact on his life. You must be very gratified by that. How can we find out if/when he is released? Does he have a good mentor or two that you know of? Have you stayed in touch with him through this?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to RevBev @ 61

I’ve done signings and some of them great but sometimes they are lengthy lessons in humility.

Mommybrain July 6th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I’m only a third of the way through and don’t want to ask too many questions about what’s ahead, because I love a good courtroom drama.

What got you interested enough in this story to write a book about it?

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Has all the litigation from the book run its course?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to RevBev @ 58

Ted Olson. When I started the book, he was the guy that gave us George W. Bush, the worst president in 200 years. He did so by representing the Republican candidate before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But he’s a man who truly cares about the law. Beyond that, don’t blame it all on Florida. Those five West Virginia electoral votes were automatically Democratic until the Republicans and the coal industry got together. They created such a monstrous image of Gore that the state went Republican.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Oh, I thought you were more than fair about that. The problem was the long shadow of Blankenship’s other malevolence.

I think a story like Caperton’s is useful because in the judicial context, there are identifiable winners and losers. So when a judge is beholden to the money that elected her, and you see injustices hurting sympathetic litigants, the perniciousness of money as power speaks for itself.

On the other hand, when a Congressman votes for a bill that helps a specific lobby, the sympathetic individual victim doesn’t exist. It’s not that money isn’t poisonous in Congress, it’s just that winners and losers aren’t so particularized; arguments against money are necessarily more abstract.

That said, we’re now at a place with dark money where Blankenship (or anyone else, like the plaintiff’s attorney’s with the $500K you mentioned above) can enter the fray with dark money. If Blankenship had taken that route, would you have had a book?

If that’s the case, how did Blankenship mess that up? Why didn’t he go dark?

And finally, shouldn’t the savvy observer absolutely expect that dark money is a big play in judicial elections?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 68

I’m in touch with Tony all the time. It’s not cheap by the way. We’ve let corporations take over even our prisons and Tony has to call collect and it costs out of state about a dollar a minute. Try that for the family and children of a prisoner. Tony’s all set up to go to Wheeling, West Virginia where there are people ready to help.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Maybe you can write a book about Bush; not sure you could stand the process. But I would love to read it. (We agree.)

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Mommybrain @ 70

I’d worked in a coal mine outside Beckley, West Virginia forty years ago. I read a story in the New York Times about the Caperton case. Hugh Caperton lives in Beckley and I called him and went down to see him.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

One of the scenes I loved in the book was early on when Fawcett and Stanley were driving back to Pittsburgh from a so called mediation session between Caperton and Blankenship that was very dispiriting, to say the least, and Fawcett said, “I wish I had a fuckin’ knife.”
“Ah, it’s not that bad,” Stanley laughed.
“No, Bruce, we need to take a blood oath. I’m serious. All we want is justice.”
“Until we have justice, we never settle, we never stop,” Fawcett said, putting his hand out to his partner.
“Blood oath,” Stanley said. They had no knife, so Stanley settled for shaking Fawcett’s outstretched hand and repeating his words.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

No, Capito is a Republican. I was speaking of Justice Davis; I’d have to do some digging, but I’m pretty sure I read that she was spoken of as a possible entrant. I found it astounding, since I had an inkling of her role in Caperton. This pre-dated the release of your book. I’m truly hoping Price goes a way toward ending her political career.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 73

I’m sure Blankenship would have been delighted to have kept his contributions secret. But the meticulous lawyer who handled the matter said that couldn’t be done and set up a different kind of structure. The trial lawyers were really much sloppier in the way they ran things.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Oh, I’m so glad to hear you’re regularly in touch with him! He’ll need strong mentors when he gets out to stay on the right track.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to RevBev @ 71

No! But this is a great question for Lawrence!

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 78

If Davis runs, she will probably be haunted by this book, and I doubt if she will run. She and her husband keep up with everything and I’m sure they’re reading this. So Justice Davis if anything is wrong about you in my book, please come out and say so. It’s a democracy last time I looked.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:25 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 77

I love that scene too. Some people thought I embellished it or made it up. But it’s precisely what Stanley and Fawcett told me happened.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I just want to highlight this for the readers of the book, because Tony’s case is truly heart-breaking. It’s wonderful and a little scary to hear that he’s getting out soon. Wonderful for obvious reasons, scary because you know he’s got a lot of work ahead of him, and the slightest slip could result in a horrible outcome. Prayers.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Towards the beginning of the book, one sentence hit me like a gut punch and I kept reading it over and over to find the mistake in what I’d read. I had read it correctly the first time.

“Over one hundred thousand American miners have died in the pursuit of coal…”

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:27 pm
In response to RevBev @ 71

Are you kidding? Stanley and Fawcett took the case to Virginia after the Supreme Court of West Virginia rejected it three times in a row. The circuit judge in Virginia did the same thing. They appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia. A few weeks ago they unanimously ruled that the case can go ahead to trial. The 27-page opinion is basically a forceful attack on the Supreme Court of West Virginia.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Will he be on parole?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to RevBev @ 75

I have a hardtime writing holding my nose.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Spoiler Alert
<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>

So the case is back in VA. I’m a lawyer, but I’m not up to speed on res judicata. So… Do any of the findings by the WV district court carry weight in the VA case? Or will Caperton’s team have to conduct all new discovery and try the case from scratch?

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Im so glad for the update. Has Caperton continued to weather the whole thing? BTW, I loved his wife…

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:31 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 85

Now consider India, China, Russia…

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I had to stop reading the book for a while after reading the scene about how they messed with Justice Starcher’s turn to be Chief Justice at the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. The majority on the 5 justice court had now become conservative, thanks to Blankenship’s $3 million plus in the election of Justice Benjamin. Instead of the long long tradition of each of the 5 justices taking turns at being Chief Justice, the 3 justice majority just removed his turn. That really made me mad. Injustice personified.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 87

Yes, and there are now these draconian rules for “sex offenders.” The offense that imprisoned Tony for 15 to 35 years took place when he was 13 or 14. There’s absolutely no indication that he would ever do anything like this again. But he’s subject to this amazing scrutiny. He’s got to have a certain kind of therapist. There’s nobody qualified in Wheeling. He’ll have to drive up close to Pittsburgh for this. The whole thing is absurd. Say when you were seventeen, you had sex with a fifteen-year-old. And you’re caught. You’re a sexual offender, and for the rest of your life you will be watched as if you were a serial killer about to commit another crime.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

It’s really heartbreaking, that hard as it has been for him at the hands of the “justice” system, now that he’ll be out of prison, he’ll have to drag this around with him as well. I read of another case where the sex offender status was even created by mistake and the person still hadn’t been able to get it removed.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 92

Yeah, Davis got to go twice in a row, right? I’m telling you, she’s noxious. And the entire court did away wholesale with the idea of judicial comity.

I know I was agitated too, but then I considered the idea that the liberal bloc controlled that court for generations. I’d be naive if I thought they never abuse their power in all that time.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to excuse the inexcusable power-play. I’m just making a general comment about power: when it’s concentrated, it’s, more often than not, abused.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Can you say anything more about the Blankenship likely indictment? Or, would it be based on some of the facts described in the book?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 89

It’s considered a fresh case, but the depositions and trial testimony are still relevant. It will be one hell of a trial. Massey is no more and Alpha will doubtlessly do what they did in the earlier rounds in Virginia, bring in some heavy hitters. My guess is that these attorneys won’t spend most of their time attacking Hugh Caperton the way their predecessors did. My guess it they’ll try to say things to diminish the size of the judgment. The judge in the West Virginia was amazed that the jury came up with $50 million. He thought it was worth maybe $10 million. What ever it is, my understanding is that if they win, the plaintiffs will get interest from day one.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:40 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 92

Actually, my understanding is that the justices are still messing with Starcher. He was working as a circuit judge on a daily basis. Benjamin has a certain control over this, and he apparently is not happy that Starcher is still happily at work.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Has Blankenship been joined to the case in his personal capacity, or is it still just Massey as defendant?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:42 pm
In response to RevBev @ 96

The US Attorney is building a conspiracy case. The last defendant pled guilty to being part of a conspiracy. When the judge asked him who told you to do these things, he said the CEO. He apparently was too afraid even to say Blankenship’s name. To me it would be criminal to jail this man for a long term–which is precisely what they’re asking the judge to do–without sending Blankenship.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:43 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 99

He’s a defendant in the civil suit but all his bills are taken care of by Massey and now by Alpha

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Have you started your next book? Do you know what it will be about? Do you rest between books?

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Thanks. We’ll be watching. I also had earlier checked Wiki to see if there had been news since the book.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:45 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 94

I see myself as a progressive but this is the case of a law that was seen as solving a problem that has created what I think is a worse one.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I assume you read Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent (and the others) in Caperton. What did you make of it/them?

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Why are book signings sometimes humbling? And will you be coming to Austin?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:47 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 95

I totally agree with that. Power held too long corrupts. I’m a Democrat but I hope the Republicans forge back It would be bad for America to have the Democrats endlessly in power without strong challengers. Of course, the Republicans will have change radically and there’s no sense that they are beginning to do this.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

In Texas we would love to see a few Democrats….the time will come, I guess.

BevW July 6th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Laurence, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and for shining a light on the greed and corruption of Massey Energy and Don Blankenship.

Mike, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Laurence’s website (Leamer.com) and book (The Price of Justice)

Mike’s website (FossilAgenda)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Frederic C. Rich / Christian Nation (novel); Hosted by Joseph “JP” Sottile. The story of – what if – Sarah Palin became President.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com; FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Also, how much of this would you characterize as something that could only happen in West Virginia? I ask because it seems the state’s politics are dominated by a few old families. Justice McGraw’s brother, for example, had been the WV AG for how many years? You mentioned the Capitos and we’ve got the Rocks and the Manchins… It seems like in WV you are either connected, or you’re someone to be manipulated by the connected. To what extent am I over-simplifying?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 102

Actually, I may have ny next book. It’s called The Last Lynching. It took place in Mobile, Alabama and thanks to Justice Department the killers were found and convicted and one of them was executed. Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center took on
Beulah Donald as their client. It was her son, Michael Douglas, who was lynched. The lawsuit broke the back of the Klan. I’m going down to Mobile in a week to meet with Dees and check things out.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

If you are still around, would you mention some of your own books that may be you may esp like? Id be very interested in your recomds. I do not expect you to be objective.

Mommybrain July 6th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Coming to LA?

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 106

The book signings are humbling when only two people show up. It has happened. Believe me. Later this month I’m going out with Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley to major ReedSmith law firms across the country. That should be fun.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

You have written a really great book. Thanks for that and thank you for coming in. Good luck with Dees…another hero.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to Mike Stark @ 110

It happens other places. Believe me.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
In response to RevBev @ 112

I’ve written a trilogy on the Kennedys. If you go to Amazon and slug my name, you’ll find the whole list.

Laurence Leamer July 6th, 2013 at 3:56 pm
In response to Mommybrain @ 113

Yes, I think on July 30th, something like that. I’ll put this stuff on my website. Leamer.com

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

It sounds like it’ll be another page turner and also have a lot of food for thought. Best of luck with it if you decide to do it.

Elliott July 6th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Thank you both so much, a great salon.

Good luck on the book tour! and may you finally get those reviews from the reluctant WaPo and NYT. scaredy cats!

and as always, thanks to Bev for pulling it all together.

Here’s to justice!

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

And Austin? Will you be coming here? If you do, we can read your book for our book club and invite you to participate.

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thanks….I saw that and I certainly will. I think I read the “Women” one years ago.

greenwarrior July 6th, 2013 at 3:58 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 121

Actually, we can read the book for the book club in any case.

Mike Stark July 6th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thanks very much for spending so much time with us Lawrence. Awesome Salon!

RevBev July 6th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

The Austin place for signing is Book People if you want to have your people contact their people; Im going to suggest as well. Thanks, again.

JamesJoyce July 6th, 2013 at 5:18 pm

The undue influence of money in the political process spilling over into the judiciary, sure has drawbacks.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post