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W&L Law Alumni Bring Down ‘King of Coal’

This March, CBS aired a riveting feature from 60 Minutes exploring the 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners, and the subsequent prosecution of mine owner Don Blankenship.

In December of 2015, Blankenship was found guilty in a landmark ruling of willfully violating mine safety laws. This was the first time the CEO of a major company was convicted of a workplace safety crime.

W&L Law alumni Booth Goodwin ‘96L, U.S. attorney for West Virginia, and Stephen Ruby ‘06L, assistant U.S. attorney, led the prosecution of Blankenship.

“This could be likened to a drug organization and the defendant was the kingpin,” Goodwin said in the report.

Ruby and Goodwin argued that Blankenship ignored regular reports of safety violations and instructed employees to ignore safety laws and mislead mine inspectors.

“The men and women that we talked to who worked in this mine said that it was absolutely understood, it was expected that if you worked at that mine, you were going to break the law in order to produce as much coal as possible, as fast and as cheaply as possible,” said Ruby.

Blankenship will be sentenced in April. His misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum 1 year prison sentence and fines.

The full CBS 60 Minutes report is available online.

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