Supreme Court Hears Case on Role of Money in Justice

Dispute inspired a John Grisham novel
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2009 12:48 PM CST
Brent Benjamin listens to arguments in a rehearing of a $76 million judgment awarded to Harman Mining Co. against Massey Energy Co. before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – This week, the Supreme Court will hear a case so twisty it inspired a John Grisham novel, the Washington Post reports. At stake: the standards for judicial impartiality. The owner of a small coal company sued a huge one, alleging it illegally drove him out of business. He won, but the larger outfit won on appeal—after its CEO spent $3 million to help elect a new West Virginia Supreme Court justice.

That new justice, Brent Benjamin, cast the deciding vote in overturning the verdict, and plaintiff Hugh Caperton argues that Benjamin couldn’t possibly be impartial, and ought to have recused himself. But his opponents argue that Don Blankenship, CEO of AT Massey Coal, had every right to donate to Benjamin’s campaign, and that “probability of bias” is a weak standard.