"W.Va. Top Court: Judge Can Still Hear Massey Trial"

"MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Conflict-of-interest allegations are not sufficient grounds for disqualification, so a southern West Virginia judge can continue overseeing a water pollution trial involving Massey Energy and its coal slurry disposal practices, the state Supreme Court said Thursday.

However, Acting Chief Justice Robin Davis ordered Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury to hold a public hearing on how a multimillion-dollar medical monitoring trust fund will be administered and what fees both the administrator and the trustee can charge.

Plaintiffs in the case against Rawl Sales & Processing, a subsidiary of Virginia-based Massey, had accused Thornsbury of personal and financial conflicts of interest, most of which Thornsbury has denied.

The judge is a shareholder in Williamson Renaissance Development LLC and co-debtor on a $1.6 million deed of trust through Community Trust Bank, which he named trustee of the medical fund. The account will be used to periodically test the health of hundreds of people who believe they could become sick from long-term exposure to poisoned well water."

Vicki Smith reports for the Associated Press July 30, 2009.

Friday, July 31, 2009