A well-constructed nonfiction legal thriller from prizewinning journalist Leamer (Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach, 2009, etc.).
In 1998, Harman Coal Company, owned by Hugh Caperton, was destroyed in what was proven through the court system to have been a fraudulent declaration of “force majeure” by Donald Blankenship, then chairman of the massive coal company Massey Energy, one of the largest employers in West Virginia. Leamer uses the more than 14 years of court battles, organized by Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley, Caperton’s Pittsburgh lawyers, as the scaffold on which he unfolds this amazing account of contemporary political corruption, skulduggery and mayhem, a situation compared by the New York Times to John Grisham's courtroom drama The Appeal. When, in 2002, Blankenship was defeated and Caperton awarded $50 million in damages, the coal king proceeded to buy his way through West Virginia's elected Supreme Court of Appeals to overthrow the verdict. According to Leamer, Blankenship gave “more money, by far [$3 million plus], than any other group or individual in any one judicial contest.” The refusal of a corrupt judge to recuse himself was successfully pursued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared that “a fair trial in a fair tribunal is a fundamental constitutional right.” This, however, was not enough to secure financial redress for Caperton, whose appeals in West Virginia were rejected for a third time in 2009. The vote, his lawyers believed, “was not just a defeat but also an insult and attempt to silence them.” The case proceeded against a background of blackmail, negligence and mining disasters, which eventually combined to precipitate Blankenship's ouster.
An eye-opening story about the relations among politics, business and justice.