Post-Post-Script To A Documentary

the_last_campaign_big_business.jpgSometime ago, I read a favorable review of a documentary called The Last Campaign. (I believe the review was by David Yas, the editor of Mass Lawyers Weekly, but I cannot be certain.)
The movie made its way into my Netflix queue and arrived in my mailbox this weekend. The movie depicts the 2004 re-election campaign of West Virginia Supreme Court justice Warren McGraw. In the election, McGraw, a populist opponent of big business, was defeated by his Republican opponent, the relatively unknown Brent Benjamin.
Despite being a popular incumbent, McGraw found himself the underdog when Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Coal, poured millions of dollars into the election to run ads against McGraw. McGraw suffered a defeat in the election and Massey Coal succeeded in installing a justice – Brent Benjamin – whom many alleged the company had bought – on the court, right before an appeal was heard in a $50 million lawsuit against it.
Over objections that he should recuse himself from the case because of a conflict of interest, Benjamin went on to cast the deciding vote in a West Virginia Supreme Court opinion that overturned the $50 million dollar verdict against Massey Coal.
The movie does not allude to it, since it was released in 2005, but the story has a post-script: Massey Coal’s influence in the election of Justice Benjamin wound up before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the “probability of bias” by Justice Benjamin was so great that he should have recused himself and that, therefore, the decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court was invalid under the Due Process clause.
This week, a further post-script to The Last Campaign: the coal mine disaster in West Virginia occurred at a Massey-owned coal mine. Just another reason to be glad you live in Massachusetts.