Judge: Massey Safety Meeting Videos 'Puffery,' Inadmissible

Oct 28, 2015

As defense attorneys continued their fourth day of cross examining a government witness, a federal judge has once again ruled to exclude defense presented evidence from the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship. 

Blankenship's lead attorney, Bill Taylor ad attempted to enter videos of a 2009 Massey safety meeting as evidence in his cross examination of former Performance Coal President and Upper Big Branch mine operator Chris Blanchard. 

Blanchard's cross examination began Thursday. Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors and securities officials about the safety record of his company after the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 men.

Federal District Judge Irene Berger ruled Wednesday the videos could not be admitted as evidence and shown to jurors, saying they are riddled with inadmissible opinions delivered by other Massey members and not the defendant himself. 

"This meeting was seemingly designed to talk about the Hazard Elimination Program," Berger said from the bench, "to tell what was expected and to get the so-called 700 leaders who were in the room excited about the program such that they would take it back to people with whom they worked." 

"There is a lot of what I would generally call puffery and there are a lot of opinions."

Berger said the videos include comparisons between state and federal mine safety standards and the Bible, calling state standards the "little testament" and federal standards the "big testament."

The videos contained speeches from a 2009 safety meeting at Scott High School for ranking Massey members including resource group presidents and mine superintendents. 

Previous witnesses for the government, including multiple underground miners, testified they had not attended the Scott High School meeting nor were they ever informed about the Hazard Elimination Program, the specific safety program discussed at the meeting.