WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

WV Supreme Court Justice’s Emails Released Under FOIA

The Charleston Daily Mail is reporting breaking news: that email records from West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard to Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship have been released under court order. The order was the result of a FOIA request and litigation by the Associated Press.

One of the emails contained a link to then-opposition candidate Menis Ketchum’s law firm website, criticizing the types of cases that he accepts. You can see the website for yourself here. Yes, Mr. Ketchum is a personal injury attorney. I’m not sure that is news to anybody. But what’s wrong with representing actual living breathing people who have real problems that were caused by others – i.e., complacent coal companies, reckless drivers, and so on and so forth. Most big-firm lawyers, and indeed the one’s who consider themselves the “elite,” make their living representing legal fictions – business or government entities who cannot feel hurt, pain, sadness, or happiness. These clients, and therefore their lawyers, are concerned only with money. Now there is nothing wrong with money, I believe in the capitalistic system. But I also believe that although personal injury lawyers get a bad name – especially in West Virginia – they are fighting for a real person and their real problems, and therefore advocate for real justice rather than the bottom line.

Another email discussed politics and the election. I guess I just don’t agree with judicial elections in the first place. This is an area of our public system of government that should be off-limits from the corruption of politics. Imagine if our federal judges were elected. It’s bad enough just going through presidential appointments and the senate confirmation process. Imagine if we had national campaign commercials for Supreme Court candidates… That is essentially what we have in West Virginia. It’s not the candidates’ fault. I would run for the West Virginia Supreme Court if I had a chance to win. But the system is wrong.

You know, most out-of-staters, and many West Virginians, have no idea that there is no intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia. We are only one of 8 (I believe) states without an intermediate court of appeals. You can probably guess which those other states are. They are the usual suspects that almost always are hovering near West Virginia on all the rankings lists.

This means that in West Virginia you do not have a right to an appeal. Imagine that. In many cases in West Virginia, including criminal cases, your only hope for appeal is likely to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that is like no appeal at all, because you have about a zero percent chance of getting considered.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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September 17, 2008 - Posted by | Judges

4 Comments »

  1. John: A principle of the Information Age: Government is wise to organize itself and its records so it can swiftly and efficiently respond to freedom-of-information-act requests. Resistance to such requests is wasteful and makes government look out-of-touch. –Ben http://legal-beagle.typepad.com/wrights_legal_beagle/2008/08/local-government-e-mail-and-the-freedom-of-information-act.html

    Comment by Benjamin Wright | September 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. I agree with your contention, except for the part about government ever being capable of being wise, or swift, or efficient. Rather, it is almost always wasteful and out of touch

    A word to the “wise”: don’t send or receive personal emails to or from a government email account. Especially when there are so many great free email accounts available.

    – John Bryan

    Comment by johnbryanlaw | September 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. It is interesting to me that you guys don’t have a middle level appeals court, I had just assumed all states had them. I learned something new today.

    I also like that there is a guy named Spike on the Supreme Court. Of course, we had a guy named Kinky run for govenor last election.

    Comment by Bad Court Thingy | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  4. It truly is scary that in West Virginia, or in these other states with no intermediate court of appeals, that an innocent person could be convicted by an unfair jury (consisting of mostly small towns, West Virginia is a nightmare of tainted jury pools), and the WV Supreme Court could refuse to hear the appeal based solely on the fact that the guy was convicted of a sex crime (in 2004, Justice McGraw lost his seat on the Supreme Court based mostly on negative ads that accused him of freeing a sex offender – even though it was a correct legal ruling). Then, the poor sap’s first actual legitimate appeal is to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Or, maybe the WV Supreme Court only wants to hear one issue on his appeal, even though there are 4 or 5 issues in the appeal. For those other issues, the only appeal is to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    It truly is frightening when you look at the process through the eyes of an innocent person wrongly convicted.

    Comment by johnbryanlaw | September 18, 2008 | Reply


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