Stanley had other important cases pending against Massey and Blankenship, involving wrongful death and the poisoning of the water of hundreds of citizens. The lawyer explained to me how Blankenship’s company and its disregard for safety was so outrageous that he believed Massey had been responsible for the deaths of scores of miners. Blankenship fostered vendettas against anyone who dared challenge his sovereignty over coal country.
I sensed that this story was far larger and more socially significant than I had first realized. It wasn’t just about one lawsuit; there were half a dozen. And it wasn’t just about West Virginia. It was about the nature of justice in America.
I then walked over to David Fawcett’s office. Fawcett, who dresses elegantly, is a precisely spoken third-generation Pittsburgh lawyer, the least likely person to have been Stanley’s partner in a decade-long struggle against Blankenship and Massey Energy. The tall, lean attorney is cautious and circumspect, and it took me a long while to win his confidence. Fawcett didn’t feel the harm Blankenship was doing in the same visceral way West Virginia- born Stanley did, but he, too, had been brought up with a concern for justice. He, too, had taken on other cases against Massey, and he was just as determined to go to any length necessary to bring Blankenship down.
Blankenship, the most powerful coal baron in the history of the industry, had risen up just as the industry began what in Appalachia is probably a terminal decline, when West Virginia desperately needed leaders to help the state look elsewhere for a future. The worse the future appeared, the more Blankenship’s power tightened. For over a decade, just about the only significant things that stood in the way of Blankenship’s control over a state and an industry seemed to be these two Pittsburgh attorneys, who had undertaken a relentless legal quest to bring justice to this corner of America.
Many people view West Virginians as another people, remote and distant, unworthy of concern. When Spike TV did a series on a West Virginia coal mine, the program’s editors added subtitles beneath the images, as if the miners spoke in an incomprehensible foreign tongue.
I had never had any trouble understanding that language. And so I headed down to West Virginia and reentered a world I had known long ago. As I drove those mountain roads, I kept thinking of the miners I had worked with so many years ago. To me, the most troubling aspect of their lives had been their fatalism. They’d often done unsafe things and taken chances they should not have. They’d figured that if bad things were going to happen, they were going to happen, no matter what you did or what precautions you took, so you might as well do pretty much as you pleased.
Stanley’s father and brother had been miners, and he was as much a son of West Virginia as any of the men with whom I had worked. But he had not one iota of that mountain fatalism, and neither did Fawcett. They fought Blankenship with every ounce of their energy and ability. No matter how desperate and forlorn their chances, they refused to give up. Theirs was the story I would tell this time.
Excerpted from THE PRICE OF JUSTICE: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer, published May 7th by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Laurence Leamer. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2013 The National Memo