Brent D. Benjamin is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. During his election campaign and subsequent tenure on the Court, his alleged relationship with the Chief Executive Officer of coal giant Massey Energy has subjected him to controversy. In June 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled that his refusal to recuse himself in a case involving Massey constituted a denial of due process. He served as the inspiration for John Grisham's 2008 novel, The Appeal.
Justice Benjamin hails originally from Marietta, Ohio, but has made residence in West Virginia for the past 20 years. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees from The Ohio State University. Before his election, he was a principal attorney with Robinson and McElwee, PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia. His 20-year practice at that firm involved general civil litigation in state and federal courts, including toxic torts and complex litigation. His civil rights practice focused on protecting children from physical and sexual abuse. He was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in November 2004. Benjamin received 53% of the votes, McGraw received 47%. He began a 12-year term on January 1, 2005 and served a one-year term as Chief Justice under the Court's rotation scheme in 2009. In 2013, he was appointed to a second one-year term as Chief Justice. He is married, and has five children.
He has practiced in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and the Kentucky Supreme Court. He is a 1999 graduate of Leadership West Virginia. He is also a current member of the Hocking College Archaeological Mission, and has participated in archaeological excavations in the United States and Egypt.
During the 2004 Judicial campaign, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship spent $3 million in a state-wide ad campaign to defeat then West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, whom Benjamin was challenging. According to the later United States Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, Blankenship's contribution was "more than the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters and three times the amount spent by Benjamin's own committee." In April 2008, Benjamin became involved when the case relating to Blankenship's company (Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.) came before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Despite calls for Benjamin to recuse himself due to Blankenship's involvement in Benjamin's 2004 campaign, Benjamin remained on the case and was twice part of the three to two majority that ruled on behalf of Massey Energy, reversing the 2002 verdict. Harman Mining's owner, Hugh Caperton, appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in June 2009 that elected judges must recuse themselves from cases where exceptionally large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias, and remanded the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court for a rehearing. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy called the appearance of conflict of interest so "extreme" that Benjamin's failure to recuse himself constituted a threat to the plaintiff's Constitutional right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s dissent warned that the majority's decision would have dire consequences for "public confidence in judicial impartiality."
Benjamin's election and his involvement in Caperton v. Massey became the inspiration for the best-selling 2008 novel The Appeal by John Grisham, a dramatization of the dangers of conflict of interest in an elected judiciary.
- "Justice Brent D. Benjamin". Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. Retrieved August 24, 2009.
- Liptak, Adam (June 8, 2009). "Justices Tell Judges Not to Rule on Major Backers". New York Times.
- Huber, Tim (July 24, 2009). "Massey drops lawsuit against WVa Supreme Court". The Associated Press. Retrieved August 2009.
- Finn, Scott (June 9, 2009). "Caperton v. Massey: what a long, strange case it's been". West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
- Biskupic, Joan (February 16, 2009). "Supreme Court case with the feel of a best seller". USA Today.
- West Virginia Biographical Page
- Justice for sale(American Radio Works)
- Washington Post article
- SCOTUSwiki entry for Caperton v. A.T. Massey, Inc. et al.
- Cornell University Legal Information Institute text of opinions
- Robinson & McElwee PLLC: a West Virginia Law Firm
|Justice for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia