September 17, 2008

Maynard E-Mails Criticize Ketchum


Two of the five e-mails West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard sent to Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship criticize one of Maynard's challengers in last spring's primary election - Menis Ketchum.

Both e-mails were sent to Blankenship on Oct. 11, 2007, and contain links to Web pages maintained by the Huntington law firm Ketchum co-founded - Greene Ketchum - and comments about the contents of those pages.

Under a link to a page that describes the law firm's abilities to handle medical malpractice cases, Maynard opines: "Don - This is only one of Menis' ads - look at the kind of cases he is advertising for - unbelievable."

Another link leads to a page detailing what the law firm can do in cases of coal mine accidents. The page references the 2006 fire at the Aracoma mine as one instance that shows that coal operators should be held accountable for maintaining safe mines.

Aracoma was a Massey mine and the company was faulted for the fire that claimed two miners' lives.

"This one you gotta see - Aracoma is mentioned - you could have prevented it if you had only operated the mine properly according to Menis," Maynard wrote to Blankenship.

The Daily Mail today obtained copies of the five e-mails ordered released to the public Tuesday by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom. Bloom gave the court 10 days to turn over the e-mails.

The Associated Press sued the state Supreme Court for access to the e-mails in its ongoing coverage of this year's Supreme Court race. The AP wanted to scrutinize Maynard's e-mails to Blankenship as it investigated an alleged inappropriate relationship between the two men.

Controversy swirled around Maynard after photos surfaced of the two men together while on vacation on the French Riviera. The photos were taken in 2006 at a time when Massey had a multi-million dollar appeal pending before the state Supreme Court.

Maynard ended up voting with the majority in favor of Massey in that appeal, reversing a multi-million dollar jury verdict that had been leveled against the company in Boone County. The court later reheard the case - without Maynard, who stepped aside - and came to the same conclusion.

The photos, which were released in January, doomed Maynard's re- election chances, experts observed.

Ketchum and Maynard are Democrats. Maynard, the incumbent, placed third in the primary, meaning he will have to give up his seat in January. Ketchum will go on to face Democrat Margaret Workman and Republican Beth Walker in the general election. There are two seats coming open on the court.

Ketchum, who beat Maynard in the primary election by 38,132 votes, declined to comment on the critical nature of the e-mails.

"I don't know what to say," Ketchum said today. "All I can say is that I both prosecuted and defended coal companies and doctors. In my jury trials, more than half of my verdicts have been for the defense. My office accepted cases from any person or business that wanted to hire us.

"We're from a small town and are tickled when a business or individual thinks enough of our firm to employ us to represent them."

Maynard did not immediately respond to a telephone call, and Blankenship did not immediately respond to an e-mail today.

The other three e-mails sent last year are links to news articles and commentary that feature Maynard as a subject.

"Dear Mr. Chairman ... Stories from the campaign trail - nice front page free coverage - spike," says one e-mail sent to Blankenship on Nov. 6.

The e-mail included a link to a story in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel detailing an appearance the justice made before the local Rotary Club. Maynard was talking about a ruling the court had made regarding an annexation fight between Charles Town and Jefferson County.

Another e-mail sent Oct. 5 has a link to a column written by MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval. The column was called "This is a court race conservatives can love" and appeared in the Daily Mail.

The column noted that conservatives were rooting for Maynard and Republican Beth Walker in the election because they would shift the ideology of the court from "liberal activism" to a "conservative philosophy."

The last e-mail, sent Sept. 21, was a link to a story on MetroNews' Web site. The link is now dead, so the contents can't be viewed.

Bloom said in his ruling that another eight e-mails between Maynard and Blankenship couldn't be released because they don't deal with the business of the public.

However, Bloom ruled that if Maynard had not stepped aside from re-hearing the Massey appeal at the center of all the controversy, he would have ordered to court to turn those over, too.

Massey has a similar lawsuit pending in Kanawha County seeking Justice Larry Starcher's e-mails that contain references to either Blankenship or the coal company.

The coal company also has a lawsuit pending in federal court in Charleston that challenges the way state justices recuse themselves from hearing cases.

Massey argues that because parties cannot appeal a justice's decision to stay on a case, the court is violating the constitutional right to due process.

Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at [email protected] or 304- 348-4843.

Originally published by DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER.

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