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West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elliott E. Maynard’s Conflict of Interest

There is an interesting story today in the New York Times on the chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, Elliott E. Maynard, and his relationship with coal-company executive Don L. Blankenship. Apparently, these two met “accidentally” in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the coal executive’s company was appealing a $76.3 million jury verdict against them to the court. A little more than a year later, Justice Maynard was the swing vote in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of Blankenship’s company, nullifying the jury’s verdict. The rule is clear that judges who have personal relationships with the litigants must recuse themselves from the case.

Apparently, a spokesman for the coal company said the complete thing was a coincidence. The two men were vacationing separately, although the spokesman allowed that they met occasionally for lunches and dinners. These men were photographed together on July 3, 4 and 5, 2006.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been vacationing in Monte Carlo, randomly bumped into a friend there, and then met with that friend at least three days in a row. This does not happen to everyone? Who knew? Do you people even have private jets?

Scalia and Chaney

In 2004, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia famously refused to disqualify himself from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, although the two were friends who had taken trips together. Justice Scalia contended that disqualification was not required because Mr. Cheney had been sued in his official capacity.

I disagree with Justice Scalia on this point. Actually, I think I disagree with him on pretty much every point where reasonable minds could differ. But at least that conflict was out in the open. So whatever you think of Justice Scalia’s decision, at least it was open.  And the impact on Cheney is much less direct than it is in the West Virginia case.  In this Monte Carlo mess, no one knew until these pictures surfaced of these guys together in Monte Carlo.  No one was posting them on Facebook for some reason.

Apparently, hundreds of West Virginia miners lost their jobs because of this decision. If you are one of those miners, how do you feel seeing those pictures?

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