Trial of Mining CEO Blankenship: Quotes from Week 4

The criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship concluded its fourth week. Chris Blanchard the former president of Massey Energy’s Performance Coal Company was the prosecution’s witness for the entire week. The Upper Big Branch mine was part of the Performance Coal Company subsidiary.

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. provides updates several times a day from the federal courthouse. This week’s featured a sparring match between the prosecution and defense attorneys over and about Blanchard’s testimony. Thanks to Ward’s reporting, I present some of my favorite exchanges from this week’s phase of the trial.

US Attorney Steve Ruby, for example, probed Blanchard about profit, that’s right, profit. Ward writes:

“Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby had Blanchard read aloud from a US Securities and Exchange Commission – previously entered into evidence – which showed Massey reported more than $50 million in profits in 2008.

‘Was it enough?’ Ruby asked.

‘Enough what?’ Blanchard answered.

‘Enough profit,’ Ruby said.

‘It was profit, sir. I can’t answer that question,’ Blanchard said.

Ruby had Blanchard read from another SEC filing that showed Massey reported more than $100 million in profits in 2009. Again, Ruby asked Blanchard, ‘Was that enough profit?’

‘Again, sir, I can’t answer that question,’ Blanchard said.

Ruby asked Blanchard if Massey’s level of profits provided any reason to commit preventable violations of safety laws.

Blanchard responded, ‘No, sir.'”

From the defense side, Blankenship’s attorneys continued to make the case that their client was deeply concerned about safety. In William Taylor III’s cross examination of Blanchard, Taylor asked the former Performance Coal president to read aloud from memos written by Blankenship. One memo concerned accumulations of coal and coal dust [explosive] around a faulty conveyor belt system at the UBB mine.  As Ward writes:

“Blanchard read to the jury from handwritten notes that depicted Blankenship as furious that the situation had been allowed to reach that point. ‘I’ve had it with nonsense,’ Blankenship had written. ‘Whoever is in charge of the belts needs to be discharged. Let’s turn this company around.’”

“In a second handwritten note directed to Blanchard, Blankenship said: ‘Clearly your UBB super[intendent] and belt people are not members’ – Massey’s term for its employees. ‘Clear them out.’”

The trial will resume on Tuesday, Nov. 3 and may again feature testimony from Chris Blanchard. The former senior Massey official was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Blankenship.

For those of us who relish the opportunity to dig into memos, letters, and other written records, the Charleston Gazette added a feature to their on-line coverage of the Blankenship criminal trial: a searchable database of all the exhibits introduced by the prosecution or defense teams.