Defense lawyers for Don Blankenship late Friday asked a federal judge “on an emergency basis” to again delay the trial of the former Massey Energy CEO, saying they need more time to review newly released records from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Blankenship faces three felony counts alleging that he conspired to violate mine safety laws and lied to securities regulators and investors about Massey’s safety practices following the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
A jury trial is scheduled to begin before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger on Oct. 1 in Charleston.
Blankenship’s lawyers asked that the trial be delayed until at least Jan. 11, 2016.
In their new motion to continue the trial, Blankenship’s attorneys said that they received from the government on Wednesday a computer disc containing 72,700 pages of records from MSHA. They had been asking for additional documents from the federal agency, including some that involve an in-person meeting and phone call between Blankenship and MSHA chief Joe Main that occurred within the two months prior to the mine disaster.
The lawyers said it is “impossible” for them to review the records prior to the current start date for the trial.
“If these proceedings are to have any semblance of fairness, a continuance must be granted,” the defense lawyers said. “The prejudice to Mr. Blankenship otherwise would be serious and constitutional in dimension.”
The defense lawyers also alleged that the government continues to withhold records, especially ones that might show MSHA inspectors indicating that they found positive safety performance at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
“Mr. Blankenship has clear Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to the time needed to review these documents, collect and review all of the additional documents that the government still has not produced, and then to put them to use in investigation, interviews, examination preparation, and other trial preparation,” the defense lawyers wrote. “The government cannot deny Mr. Blankenship these most basic rights through eleventh-hour document dumps, incomplete productions, and continuous misrepresentation.”
Since Blankenship was charged in November 2014, the trial has been delayed three times – from January to April, from April to July and then from July until October.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Friday night that his office “will be filing a response in short order.”