The 2nd half of today's Mike Myer column marks the opening salvo in the Intelligencer's attempt to get State Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin re-elected.
Myer, without going into very many specifics, defends Benjamin from conservative criticism of a decision in which he was a part of a court majority that allowed drug addicts to sue pharmacies. Reading Myer, it quickly becomes clear who the Intelligencer will support in this election:
Benjamin is a conservative -- but he's dedicated to upholding the law and the state constitution.
How could anyone argue with that? And later:
Benjamin and other justices who limit their rulings to the state constitution and existing law are absolutely right.
Without much explanation and with no proof, we're asked to trust Michael Myer on this.
But nowhere among this praise for Benjamin is there any mention of how Benjamin came to the Supreme Court seat to begin with, his ties to Don Blankenship, or his not-so-ethical actions afterwards.
Some history. "The Best Judge $3 Million Can Buy" by Blake Fleetwood in Huffington Post in 2009 detailed how Benjamin got the seat in the first place.
The case -- Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal - began when Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey, lost a $76 million verdict in a fraud lawsuit brought by smaller rival, Hugh Caperton, in West Virginia. Caperton was driven out of business by Massey.
Coal Baron Blankenship is not a man who likes to lose. He is a Huey Long type character who looms large over the political landscape of West Virginia. He looked at the members of the state Supreme Court and decided he didn't like some of them.
Why not buy a new judge?
Blankenship had the audacity to target Judge Warren McGraw, who he thought was anti-business and would rule against him. Blankenship spent $3 million in odious, nasty attack ads destroying the liberal Judge, and getting his man, an unknown Brent Benjamin, elected in 2004.
The money did the job.
Caperton asked Judge Benjamin to recuse himself three times, because he obviously could not be impartial toward Blankenship, who had literally bought him his court seat. Benjamin refused each time saying he could absolutely be impartial.
Three years later, Benjamin, predictably cast a critical vote in a 3-2 decision that sided with Blankenship and threw out the $76 million verdict.
Spending $3 million to save $76 million sounds like an effective use of corporate funds for Massey Coal.
In an article that featured the author of a book about the corruption of West Virginia's judicial system, the Charleston Gazette put the $3 million in perspective:
The $3 million that Blankenship spent on the race was more than two-thirds of all the total money raised in the election.
It then quotes the author, Laurence Leamer:
"Benjamin was elected," Leamer said, "as Blankenship's creature."
The Caperton case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Justice Kennedy led the majority and wrote that
"the Constitution required disqualification when an interested party’s spending had a “disproportionate influence” in a case that was “pending or imminent.”
If you think that the Huffington Post and Leamer embellished what happened, do your own research - this case is quite famous on the web. Benjamin and Blankenship are discussed on almost every website that examines the enormous role that big money plays in our election system or, more specifically, that look at big money's role in the election of judges. I've read about Benjamin's first election a number of times and each time I revisit it I'm once again appalled at what happened -- and now the Intelligencer has launched his re-election effort.
Myer and the Wheeling "newspapers" have completely ignored Benjamin's judicial ethics. For instance, in a Sunday Sit-Down for the News-Register, the topic never came up. That interview and this column portend how Benjamin will be covered. The local "newspapers" can editorialize all they want about how they represent the best interests of West Virginians but columns like this prove just the opposite -- they're really there to serve the best interests of the fossil fuel industries and the elected officials that protect them.