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Outlets Want Gag Order Lifted While Blankenship Wants to Change Trial Location

Sketch artist Jesse Corlis

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship appeared Wednesday in US Federal Court in Beckley.

Judge Irene Berger heard arguments in two hearings in relation to Blankenship’s criminal case.  

One involved a motion to lift the broad gag order while the other requested more time to prepare motions and for trial.

Several media outlets including Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and NPR are challenging a gag order Judge Berger issued after former coal company CEO Don Blankenship was indicted on federal conspiracy charges.

Blankenship is accused of conspiring to violate mine safety laws in the years that lead up to the Upper Big Branch Explosion that killed 29 men in 2010. Representing the media outlets, Sean McGinley argued that the gag order should be lifted because it violates first amendment rights, unsealing court documents will give reporters and the public a better understanding of the proceedings.

Blankenship’s attorney supports the gag order as long as the court proceedings are scheduled to happen in the 4th District, Southern West Virginia. But Blankenship, and his attorneys, don’t want to be tried in Southern West Virginia.

During this hearing, one of Blankenship’s attorneys sited the former CEO’s long standing controversial reputation in Southern West Virginia calling him a ‘strike breaker’ in reference to his bout with the United Mine Workers of America in the 1980’s. Blankenship’s attorney went on to say they needed two months to prepare these motions and a year to prepare for the trial. 

Steve Ruby with the US Attorney’s office questioned the need for more time to prepare a motion to file a transfer of venue. Judge Berger extended the deadline and asked for a written request of the specified date.

Southern W.Va. Bureau Chief, Reporter/Producer, jlilly@wvpublic.org, 304-384-5981, @JessicaYLilly

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