CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two congressional Democrats are calling for an investigation into alleged actions by West Virginia law firm Jackson Kelly and others in connection to black lung benefits cases.Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Joe Courtney, D-Conn., sent a letter Thursday to the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor asking the office to look into the alleged transgressions. Miller is the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which oversees the federal black lung benefits program. Courtney is also on the committee. Citing recent articles from the Center for Public Integrity -- a national journalism nonprofit organization -- and ABC News, the congressmen specifically question the actions of attorneys working for the Charleston-based firm.
"The investigative report suggests that there has been a pattern and practice by lawyers at the Jackson Kelly law firm which has compromised the integrity of the black lung benefits program and potentially tainted numerous decisions adversely affecting coal miners and their survivors," the congressmen wrote.Jackson Kelly has offices in West Virginia, five other states and Washington, D.C. It's represented coal companies since the mid 1800s, according to its website. In representing coal companies in black lung benefits cases, Jackson Kelly attorneys repeatedly did not disclose medical records that could have helped coal miners prove they had the disease, according to the center's report."Jackson Kelly, documents show, over the years has withheld unfavorable evidence and shaped the opinions of its reviewing doctors by providing only what it wanted them to see," the report states.Jackson Kelly has declined comment several times regarding the allegations. In court documents, attorneys for the law firm have argued they have no obligation to turn over this information and have a duty to prepare the best case for their clients.The congressmen also want the Office of the Inspector General to look into allegations raised by the center and ABC concerning doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The reports state doctors from the hospital repeatedly refused to say medical records showed miners suffered from black lung, helping coal companies win cases. Other health care professionals found evidence of black lung in hundreds of these cases, according to the report. No West Virginia representatives serve on the same committee as Miller and Courtney. Recently, Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., have decried the difficulty miners face in receiving benefits for legitimate cases of black lung.Without mentioning Jackson Kelly by name, Manchin also criticized any law firm that tries to manipulate the court system. He called for any attorneys that participated in illegally hiding evidence to face the full penalty of law.State Sen. President Jeff Kessler, D-W.Va., and the United Mine Workers of America also called for punishment if the allegations are true.Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito, both R-W.Va., have repeatedly declined comment. Both received more than $12,000 from Jackson Kelly attorneys during the 2012 campaign, according to campaign watchdog website OpenSecrets.org.