Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Could Bob Riley Grow a Spine?

A story out of West Virginia tells us what Alabama Governor Bob Riley should do in the wake of our Supreme Court's ruling in the ExxonMobil case.

But Riley won't do it because he doesn't want to embarrass his Republican cronies who overturned almost all of a $3.6 billion jury verdict for the state against oil giant ExxonMobil.

And what should Riley do? Grow a spine, one like the folks at Harman Mining Company in West Virginia have.

The West Virginia Supreme Court had reversed a $76.3 milion judgment for Harman and against Richmond-based Massey Energy in a coal-contract dispute. Sound similar to the dispute between Alabama and ExxonMobil over a contract for royalty payments on natural gas? Sure does, except the Alabama case involved billions of dollars while the West Virginia case involved only millions.

Did the folks at Harman Mining just sit back and take it? Nope. Unlike Bob Riley, they decided to fight back by filing a motion for rehearing.

And guess what happened? Photos turned up of West Virginia Chief Justice Elliott Maynard vacationing with Massey chief executive Don Blankenship in Monaco.

Think that might be a conflict of interest? Well, Maynard now has recused himself from the case (and two other cases involving Massey), and the Supreme Court will rehear the case involving Harman Mining. You can read about Maynard's most recent recusal here.

Something tells me Harman Mining will wind up getting a healthy chunk of change out of the deal--all because it has a spine; something Bob Riley evidently does not have.

A few thoughts on the West Virginia imbroglio:

* Maynard is a Democrat, showing that judicial sleaze is a bipartisan problem.

* Recall that Scott Horton, of Harper's .org, reported that over the past six years, ExxonMobil interests had contributed $5.5 million to the campaigns of Republicans running for the Alabama Supreme Court. The behavior of West Virginia's chief justice is bad, but what about the GOPers on Alabama's Supreme Court. They take $5.5 million and then wipe out a $3.6 billion liability for ExxonMobil? One heck of an investment for the Exxon guys.

* This whole notion of judges vacationing and cavorting about with lawyers and executives who come before them raises serious hackles here at the Schnauzer. In my case, Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner admitted, after I had uncovered it, that he played golf regularly with opposing counsel Bill Swatek. And a source in the Birmingham legal community told me it is well known that certain Shelby County lawyers take the judges on fishing/hunting (and God knows what else) junkets to Alaska. My source tells me those lawyers tend to fare mighty well before the Shelby County judges.

* Notice what happened when Harman Mining decided not to just take being screwed by the West Virginia Supreme Court? Notice what happened when the company had the guts to seek rehearing of its case? All hell broke loose, and gobs of gooey sleaze spewed forth from the state supreme court.

That's exactly what Bob Riley does not want to happen in Alabama. And chances are, the West Virginia Supreme Court is a model of integrity compared to the Alabama Supreme Court.

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