Supreme Court lets criminal conviction stand against coal executive Blankenship

The U.S. Supreme Court is not interested in hearing former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s claim that he didn’t get a fair trial. On October 10, the court denied Blankenship’s petition to review his criminal conviction. (here (see page 3))

In December 2015 a jury found Blankenship guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety standards. Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine was the site of the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years when 29 miners were killed by a massive coal dust explosion. Blankenship micromanaged his coal mines so much so that he demanded production reports every hour.

Blankenship’s attorneys objected during the initial trial to many of federal district judge Irene Berger’s rulings. They appealed Blankenship’s case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, but that court affirmed his conviction. That led to Blankenship’s last ditch effort to have the U.S. Supreme Court vindicate him. In denying his petition, the jury’s decision stands.

Blankenship received the maximum penalty allowed under federal mine safety laws. He already served the one year in federal prison (May 2016 to May 2017) and paid a $250,000 fine.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Ken Ward Jr. provides Blankenship’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision. Blankeship said:

“Our court system is so tangled up trying to decide whether males can use female public restroom that they have no time to concern themselves with whether American citizens have received a fair trial.”

(The Supreme Court typically has about 70 cases on their docket. This year’s includes critically important cases on gerrymandering, Trump’s travel ban against Muslims, deference to the decisions of federal agencies, and sexual orientation as a protected class under the EEOC.)

At the time of Blankenship’s 2015 conviction, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, who brought the successful case, said:

“The evidence overwhelmingly showed an enterprise that embraced safety crimes as a business strategy. It was reprehensible, and the jury saw it for what it was. Time and time again the defendant chose to put profits over safety. He got rich and the coal miners who worked for him paid the price.

Goodwin added:

“This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime.”

The Supreme Court’s decision this week makes sure that conviction stands.