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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Weekend Reader: The Price Of Justice: A True Story Of Greed And Corruption

Weekend Reader: The Price Of Justice: A True Story Of Greed And Corruption

This week, Weekend Reader brings you an excerpt from The Price Of Justice: A True Story Of Greed And Corruptionby Laurence Leamer. A real-life drama, The Price Of Justice details a court case in West Virginia in which Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, one of the top coal-producing companies in the U.S., drove a competitor into bankruptcy in order to buy the mine from the bank at a fraction of the cost. He also ignored worker safety protocol, which led to the Upper Big Branch tragedy in April of 2010. And for his final act, Blankenship bribed judges to rule in his favor when the bankrupted competitor took him to court. 

The author spoke to The National Memo about his interest in the case, and shared what inspired him to write The Price of Justice:

When I was a young man, I read a great book about eastern Kentucky called Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry Caudill.  I decided I would go down to the Appalachian Mountains and learn about these people. And so I did. I got a job in a coal mine outside Beckley, West Virginia. I developed the highest admiration for my fellow miners and it was a seminal experience in my life. Forty years later I read a story in The New York Times about how Hugh Caperton, a small mine owner, had been driven into bankruptcy by Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy. Caperton had hired two lawyers on contingency, Bruce Stanley and Dave Fawcett, and they had won a $50 million verdict in a West Virginia court. But Blankenship had spent $3.5 million electing a Supreme Court of West Virginia justice who was the crucial vote in turning back the verdict. The whole thing reeked of corruption and John Grisham had taken the story and written a novel about it, The Verdict.  What I have written in The Price of Justice goes far beyond Grisham’s plot, with twists and turns that would have been too implausible to put in a novel.

You can purchase the book here.

West Virginia is the second-poorest state in the country, but when I was living there in 1971 people were proud of their state and culture and had a sense that things were getting better. Then Beckley had vitality, and I liked to go downtown and walk the streets. But when I returned four decades later, to meet Hugh Caperton, whose coal mine had been driven into bankruptcy by Massey Energy’s CEO Don Blankenship, downtown Beckley was like most of coal country: full of empty stores and dirty windows.

The union I’d thought would last forever was a forlorn institution that serviced mainly retirees and the disabled. Back in the 1970s, there had been a big fight over strip-mining. Few could have imagined that not only would its opponents lose but there would be massive mountaintop removal operations, leveling the mountains into high-altitude parking lots.

Blankenship’s footprint was everywhere. He had broken one of the most militant unions in America. He was promoting politics that would end or limit the social welfare programs that kept many West Virginians out of desperate circumstance—programs that Blankenship believed sapped resolve and daring. He was the most vociferous defender of mountaintop removal in the state.

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I traveled next to Pittsburgh to meet with Caperton’s two lawyers, Bruce Stanley and David Fawcett III, who are the central characters in this book. They are partners at Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith, one of the largest law firms in the world, and I met them in their offices on the seventh floor of the firm’s imposing building.

I talked with Stanley first. He is short and plump and has a warm, unassuming manner that makes him instantly likable. He seems a gentle soul who has somehow wandered into the wrong profession, but the bold, powerful words he spoke that day suggested that it could be a fatal mistake to underestimate him. Stanley grew up dirt-poor in southern West Virginia, an hour and a half northwest of Beckley. Despite his two decades in Pittsburgh, he has never tried to hide his Appalachian roots.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • sigrid28

    Laurence Leamer’s “The Price of Justice” is a reminder of the high calling of American journalism and the solid tradition that stands behind it, at the end of a week when day-to-day journalism took a beating, for glorifying the GOP’s groundless attacks on the presidency and for whining about the war on terror making their glamorous, high-paying jobs more difficult. Written in crystal clear American vernacular about local politics with universal significance, books like Leamer’s, like a whiff of smelling salts, are exactly what we need to bring us back to our senses. Thank you, staff of The National Memo.

    • I Agree With You My Friend These People Here Are Nothing But Greedy Lying And Hateful Thugs Thank Goodness For Journals At National Memo Who Dare To Tell The Truth!!!

  • idamag

    When people start yammering about free market, I think of these big conglomerates who destroy the free market for some so they can amass great amounts of wealth and power.
    Vulture capitalism is greedy and ruthless. When Walmart moved into our community, smaller businesses went under. I was well acquainted with one of those business owners. He told me he could not compete with Walmart when Walmart was able to purchase goods so much lower than he could and he could not afford to sell them at cost, which was what it boiled down to.

    • I wonder how many Americans know that many of these conglomerates are multi-nationals loyal to no one but themselves.

      • idamag

        Not as many as should.

    • charleo1

      Have you noticed, that every time John Boehner makes an economic
      reference. Usually having to do with obstructing the latest jobs bill
      Obama has placed on his desk. He couches his position as one supporting
      small business? He is no more on the side of the small business, than
      Wal-Mart, or Home Depot. This entire exercise in total stupidity he has
      carried on since taking the speakership, has been nothing, if not an
      effort to run out of business, every small business person in the Country.
      Look, they’ve got it down to how many gasoline companies? 4-5?
      And how many health insurance companies? About 5. And how many
      airlines? They’re for the small business alright. Like I’m the Queen of

  • This is the classic case of how pure evil, encased in unlimited wealth, can sway the public to vote for politicians and members of the Judiciary who are clearly aligned against the best interests of the voters.

    The only justice that would be served is if Blankenship were stripped of all his wealth and power, and forced to work in the coal mines for the rest of his miserable life.

    Anything less will be a defeat, regardless of what is the outcome of any lawsuits filed against him.

    • Mr Wiseguy

      I agree 100%. Especially the last two paragraphs.