Prosecutors Oppose Delaying Blankenship Trial

By Ward, Ken | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Prosecutors Oppose Delaying Blankenship Trial


Ward, Ken, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


Prosecutors are opposing a request from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for a delay in his trial on criminal charges that he conspired to violate mine safety rules and hamper federal safety enforcement at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 workers died in an April 2010 explosion. On Tuesday evening, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby filed a response in opposition to Blankenship's request to vacate the current Jan. 26, 2015, trial date, according to a docket entry in the U.S. District Court computer system.

Under a broad gag order issued by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger, the full text of Ruby's filing is not available to the public or the media. Neither is the full text of the request to delay the trial, filed last week by Blankenship lawyer Jack Tinney.

Berger's gag order, issued the day after Blankenship was indicted by a federal grand jury, also prohibits lawyers in the case from talking to the media to explain their legal filings.

Under Berger's gag order, actual filings by the parties and orders by the court are not available to the public or the news media. Only court computer system "docket entries - short summaries of legal filings written by the court or the lawyers involved - are publicly accessible.

The grand jury indictment charging Blankenship, and even Berger's gag order itself, are not available to the public through the court's computer system, although the federal court clerk's office did provide several news outlets with copies of the gag order.

The Charleston Gazette and a coalition of other news organizations have filed a motion to intervene in the case for the limited purpose of challenging the gag order. Berger has not ruled on that motion. Other news organizations involved in trying to have the gag order lifted include National Public Radio, the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press.

Generally, the Speedy Trial Act, a law that implements the right to the "speedy and public trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, requires trials to occur within 70 days of indictment. That deadline can be waived by defendants with approval from a judge, under certain circumstances. Because of the gag order, it's impossible to know why Blankenship is seeking to delay the trial.

Blankenship pleaded not guilty and was released after posting $5 million cash bail. …

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