Blankenship's Unconvincing on Impartiality

In a CNBC interview last week, Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co., answered questions stemming from a recent decline in his company's stock....

September 15, 2008

CNBCIn a CNBC interview last week, Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co., answered questions stemming from a recent decline in his company's stock. When asked to respond to a New York Times editorial highlighting Massey's legal trouble and his suspect dealings with the West Virginia courts, the CEO dismissed the facts as skewed, and would not acknowledge that his actions posed any conflict of interest.

(For more background on this case, we have written on Blankenship's campaign contributions and questionable relationship with judges HERE and HERE)

While it is unclear how Blankenship managed to keep a straight face during the interview while denying that even the perception of a conflict of interest exists—even the news anchors on the pro-business CNBC appeared to find Blankenship's answers unsatisfactory—what is clear is that events like these make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for state courts to preserve public confidence.

The appearance of impartiality is not satisfied just because,
according to Blankenship, Justice Brent Benjamin ruled against Massey
in previous cases. The exorbitant sum and timing of the campaign
expenditures in this case poses significant concerns regarding the
floor of due process. As courts continue to be inundated with
special-interest campaign money, it becomes increasingly important for
states to beef up on back-end procedures like recusal. Imposing recusal
standards would be swift, visible and right in line with improving the
appearance of fairness and impartiality in our courts.

Although Blankenship would like to believe that his actions only
received attention due to "the location in the world"—the French Riviera—where he and
Chief Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard dined, advocates for the right to
a fair hearing before an impartial arbiter—in appearance and in
actuality—know better. The U.S. Supreme Court should use this
opportunity to provide much—needed guidance with respect to the basic
elements of due process.