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The relationship between good fair judges and safety: Blankenship, Massey, unsafe mines and campaign contributions

With the recent mine disaster in West Virginia killing dozens of miners at a Massey Coal Mine, we should recall that the Massey Chief Executive, Don Blankenship, is the same guy who "bought" a Supreme Court judge with a three million dollar contribution to the guy's campaign and that Massey and Blankenship are big contributors to "anti-regulation" politicians.  The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Blankenship's huge donation to the judge who became the deciding vote to overturn a verdict against Massey was a denial of due process to the other litigants. 

It requires no great leap of the imagination to recognize why the several hundred recent safety violation citations against Massey at the mine that just killed at least 25 miners were inadequate to force reasonable safety measures on Blankenship and Massey:  Massey was putting its money and its faith in a civil and judicial process through which it believed it could purchase immunity.  If Massey executives had known over the past few years that the applicable legal processes were aloof from their financial contributions, they would have been forced to take reasonable steps to make their mines safe.  Now a couple dozen more innocent workers have died and twenty-some families have lost a loved one and bread-winner because Massey and Blankenship were allowed to game the system. 

The interaction of the legal system and the mining industry in West Virginia is a microcosm of the U.S. right now:  a condensed and amplified version of the battle between efforts by the insurance industry and the Chamber of Commerce to elevate profit over human safety and the efforts of regulators and advocates to maintain reasonable protections for consumers and workers.  As some in industry and the insurance field have purchased traction in the court  and legislative systems, the public policy goal of reasonable health and safety regulation has been set aside---with real human costs.  When a mine has been cited literally hundreds of times for safety violations within one year (and twice within 24 hours) an incident like this week's multiple fatality is not an "accident."  It is a failure of good management, good regulation and good government.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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