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Mayer Brown's Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community. We also email the Docket Report to our subscribed members and if you don't already subscribe to the Docket Report and would like to, please click here.

October Term 2008 - November 17, 2008

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on Friday, November 14th, in one case of interest to the business community:

Due Process Clause — Judicial Recusal 

The increasingly prevalent role of financial contributions in state judicial elections has long engendered controversy.  On Friday the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., No. 08-22, to decide when, if ever, the Due Process Clause requires that a judge recuse himself because an officer of a company involved in litigation before the court contributed money to the judge’s campaign.

In this case, in which a judge declined to recuse himself, the Court will, for the first time in decades, consider the due process standards for judicial disqualification.  The Court’s resolution of this case is of significant interest to the business community because it could have a profound effect on judicial campaign contributions and recusal standards across the country. 

West Virginia is one of thirty-nine states that elect judges.  In 2004, the election for a spot on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals was particularly contentious, with Brent Benjamin vying to take the place of the incumbent, Justice Warren McGraw.  During the election cycle, the chief executive officer of the respondent corporation, A.T. Massey Coal Co. (Massey), made approximately $3 million in direct and indirect contributions to Benjamin’s campaign.  Justice Benjamin eventually won the election and took his seat on the high court. 

Several years later, Massey petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals to review a $50 million verdict entered against it.  Petitioners requested that Justice Benjamin recuse himself from consideration of Massey’s petition.  They claimed that due process required his recusal because the CEO’s support for Benjamin during the campaign created an appearance of bias.  Justice Benjamin declined to recuse himself, and then the Supreme Court of Appeals granted review and ultimately overturned the verdict. Upon rehearing, Justice Benjamin again declined to recuse himself—because the petitioners had failed to present any evidence that he had a pecuniary interest in the matter or had exhibited an actual bias toward the petitioners—and the Supreme Court of Appeals again reversed the verdict.

Amicus briefs in support of the petitioners are due January 5, 2009, and amicus briefs in support of the respondents are due February 4, 2009. Any questions about this case should be directed to Dan Himmelfarb (+1 202 263 3035) in our Washington, DC office.

Disclosure:  Mayer Brown filed a still-pending petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of Massey Energy Company, the parent of the Caperton respondent A.T. Massey Coal Co.  See Massey Energy Co. v. Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corp., Nos. 08-217, 08-218.  That petition, which relates to a separate West Virginia lawsuit involving Massey, argues that due process prohibits a court from reviewing a $250 million damages award with the participation of a different West Virginia Justice who publicly launched severe personal attacks against both Massey and its CEO. 

Mayer Brown Supreme Court Docket Reports provide information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. They are not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and are not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed.

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