The narrative is built around Caperton v. Massey Coal Company, a landmark case that would make its way to the United States Supreme Court. In 1998, Hugh Caperton filed a lawsuit against Massey Coal Company for intentionally breaking its contract in order to destroy his company, get rid of his union workers, and financially ruin Caperton himself. The man behind it was West Virginia’s most notorious and powerful corporate bully, Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship. Caperton and his two attorneys, Bruce Stanley and Dave Fawcett, began a series of vicious legal battles against Massey and Blankenship that have lasted more than a decade and inspired John Grisham’s novel The Appeal.
Leamer tells of how Caperton, Stanley, and Fawcett won a $50 million jury verdict and how Blankenship used his money and power to never pay it. Blankenship used his lawyers to delay certification of the verdict in order to push his appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court until after the judicial election. He then created a 527 PAC to dump $3 million of his own money into attack ads against a justice who was not likely to vote in his favor in support of his own candidate. In doing so, the life of a young victim of child abuse was collateral damage, ruined by Blankenship’s campaign. Blankenship was able to buy the seat on the WV Supreme Court for Brent Benjamin, who refused to recuse himself from Blankenship’s appeal and voted in his favor. (This corrupt jurist currently sits as Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court). Leamer also describes the corrupt jurist Robin Jean Davis and how she manipulated the court and took deals that would benefit her lawyer-husband. (She also remains on the court). Benjamin’s failure to recuse becomes the central legal issue in the Supreme Court case.
Bruce Stanley and Dave Fawcett take on a number of other cases against Massey and Blankenship, ranging from contract breaches like Caperton’s to wrongful death and polluting water supplies. Leamer does an excellent job portraying those involved and telling the stories of these cases and the victims of Blankenship’s greed.
The Price of Justice reads like a legal thriller, yet these events actually happened. Leamer shines a light on a legal system that is often corrupt, on a corporate culture where profits are more important than lives, and on the sad fact that justice is the David against the Goliath of money and power.
The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption
by Laurence Leamer
Times Books, 448 pp.
To be released May 7, 2013