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Blankenship trial rescheduled for April

A federal judge has rescheduled the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to start in mid-April.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger set the trial to begin at 9 a.m. on April 20 in federal court in Beckley, according to a court computer system summary of a scheduling order entered Monday.

Berger set a deadline for pre-trial motions to dismiss or to suppress evidence to be filed by Feb. 6, with a pre-trial motions hearing scheduled for March 3.

The judge had indicated last month that she would likely grant a motion by Blankenship’s lawyers to delay the trial, which had been set to start on Jan. 26.

Blankenship faces a four-count indictment that alleges he conspired to violate mine safety rules, hamper federal safety enforcement and lie to securities regulators and investors. The indictment focuses on events at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, in Raleigh County, where 29 miners died in an explosion on April 5, 2010.

Berger has not yet ruled on a motion by The Charleston Gazette and other media organizations asking that she remove a gag order that blocks public access to court records in the case and prohibits lawyers, parties, potential witnesses, victims and victims’ families from talking to the press about the case.

Under Berger’s gag order, actual filings by the parties and orders by the court are not available to the public or the news media. Only court computer system docket entries — short summaries of legal filings written by the court or the lawyers involved — are publicly accessible.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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