Reed Smith partner Bruce Stanley was born in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.
So was former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
They both grew up in poor households.
But Stanley went into law and justice.
And Blankenship went into coal mining.
Now, they are rivals.
Since joining Reed Smith in 2000, Stanley has handled a number of cases against Blankenship and Massey Energy.
Worker death cases.
Water pollution cases.
The case of Hugh Caperton that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And even a case against the U.S. government for failing to properly inspect the coal mines.
We wanted to know what was a crusader for justice in West Virginia doing at one of the largest corporate law firms in the world?
“Well, first, our managing partner, Greg Jordan he is a West Virginia native,” Stanley told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “And he is sensitized to some of the issues that present themselves in West Virginia.”
“But also, many of our business clients are not different from other clients. They like the idea of legal predictability. What developed over the years with the Caperton case and the other pieces of litigation were controversies that involved the highest court in West Virginia. All of our clients who do business in West Virginia want to know that when they walk into the highest court in the state down there, they are going to get a fair shake. That’s one dimension.”
“The other dimension is that most of these cases are contingency fee cases that generate fees. And some of them are larger cases. And they tend to generate large fees. Reed Smith isn’t going to apologize for the fact that they have a profit interest in some of these cases.”
But Reed Smith has dumped lot of money on the Caperton case, right?
“No question, that’s the nature of the beast,” Stanley said. “Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you. We felt we had the bear in that one. But we were told we didn’t. But we are persisting in that one. That is a big ticket case. That case had a value of over $76 million by the time it popped out of the West Virginia Supreme Court for the last time.”
Stanley is a star in a recently published book by Laurence Leamer titled The Price of Justice.
What does he think of his and Blankenship’s portrayal in that book?
“It’s always weird to read about yourself,” Stanley says. “I don’t know that anyone is truly comfortable reading about what anybody else has to say about them. You see yourself filtered through someone else’s lens. But all in all, I think we came out pretty well. And I like to think that Larry had his objective lens on when he told the story he told.”
“It’s a fascinating story. It has all kinds of plot lines that run through it. And one of them is the compare and contrast between Don and myself.”
“I wish I knew why Don Blankenship ended up the way he did. Don Blankenship is an intelligent man. He’s a resourceful man. He is a highly energetic man who could have done a great deal for his state had he chosen to do so.”
“I’m sure Don would contend that he did great things for the state. And he’s more than proud of his record. But from my perspective, that record speaks for itself. There are over 50 dead men on his watch from the time that Massey was a publicly traded company beginning in 2000.”
Over 50 dead?
“You can do the head count. Let’s start with 29 dead at Upper Big Branch,” Stanley said. “The two at Aracoma. And then add up the miners who died one at a time at various Massey organizations, from the time they became a publicly traded company I want to say the head count is 52 or 53.”
How many times have you met Blankenship?
“Multiple times,” he says. “Mostly in the context of a court proceeding either in a deposition or in a courtroom. I’ve met Don a good half dozen times or so.”
Were those hostile meetings?
“Not particularly. Don is a very reserved person. He’s soft spoken. He not a table banger. He’s very deliberate in the things he chooses to say. He’s typically very straight forward when he tells you something.”
There are reports in the press that the U.S. Attorney in West Virginia is hot on his trail and that he might be indicted soon.
What do you know?
“I’m confident that a detailed, lengthy criminal investigation into activities associated with the Upper Big Branch explosion, and probably other activities they may have looked into as a result of what they found at UBB I’m confident that investigation is underway.”
“Whether an indictment is imminent or not, who is to say? I’d be speculating.”
Do we know whether he is a target or not?
“I don’t know that for certain. I would be surprised if he is not. And I would suspect that the government is not just focusing its efforts on Don Blankenship, but other high level officers and employees and other representatives of that corporate entity.”
Stanley has had some amazing success in his battles with Blankenship and Massey.
He secured a $50 million jury verdict for Caperton. After an remarkable battle, detailed in Leamer’s book, the West Virginia Supreme Court finally tossed the case out of state. It ended up in Virginia, where the Virginia Supreme Court recently gave the Caperton case new life.
Stanley also represents the widows of Elvis Hatfield and Don Bragg two miners who died in a January 2006 fire at the Aracoma mine.
Stanley is now representing the two in a case against the United States government for not ensuring the safety of the men at the mine.
He’s gotten a good ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and he wants to proceed to discovery against the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Was there bribery involved?
“There was an apparent conflict of interest between the inspectors and the folks that they were inspecting,” Stanley said.
“We haven’t had a chance to do any discovery of the individual inspectors. But I have a lot of people who want to talk to me about what happened down there. And I look forward to finding out if indeed that kind of illegal activity might have been one of the things that lead these folks to turn their heads the other way.”
“Have I been able to establish affirmative evidence admissible in a court of law at this time? No. Not yet, but we are in a search for it.”
“We are concerned that bribery may have been at play and that led to this set of circumstances.”
“The other possibility in this case is that inspectors in the field doing this work said there is no point of me writing this paper because my superiors aren’t going to do anything to back me up on it. And you have to ask yourself if that was the case, what pray tell was the relationship between that inspectors’ superiors and the folks at Massey that would create that environment?”
[For the complete q/a transcript of the Interview with Bruce Stanley, see 27 Corporate Crime Reporter 26(12), print edition only.]