I’ll be looking to the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. to keep me apprised of the upcoming trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. The trial is scheduled to begin on April 20. That’s just a few weeks after the 5th anniversary (April 5) of the massive coal dust explosion that killed 29 mine workers at Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.
Ward reports this week on Blankenship’s appearance on March 24 before a US magistrate. He plead not guilty (again) to three felony counts, including a conspiracy to thwart federal mine safety inspections. Ward explains how this revised indictment differs from the one brought by the Justice Department in November 2014. He also describes some of many pre-trial motions filed by Blankenship’s attorneys to delay the trial and/or exclude evidence, and at Coal Tattoo, Ward posts the legal briefs for 20 of them. These documents are now available to the public because his newspaper and other media organizations challenged a gag order imposed by the federal judge hearing the case.
Blankenship’s legal team and lead attorney have filed motions that run the gamut from asking to disqualify certain federal judges to claims of a vindictive prosecutor. One motion asks the court to dismiss the indictment because
“the government has charged him and singled him out for prosecution in retaliation for his release of a documentary film entitled “Upper Big Branch — Never Again.”
[I blogged here when the film was released last year and urged people boycott it.]
The motion continues:
“That documentary, an exercise of Mr. Blankenship’s First Amendment rights, excoriated the federal government and accused the Mine Safety and Health Administration of being negligent and wrong about the cause of the Upper Big Branch disaster and standing in the way of mine safety. The prosecution constitutes a vindictive and selective prosecution in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
I think this and the other motions are a sign of things to come—-long, drawn out litigation.
As the family and friends of the 29 men who were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine prepare to mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster, I know that some are finding comfort that the man ultimately responsible for it is being held to account. I’m glad we’ll have Ken Ward Jr. and others from the Charleston Gazette reporting on the trial for us.