|Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia|
|Past position:||Attorney, Robinson and McElwee, PLLC|
|Undergraduate:||The Ohio State University|
|Law School:||The Ohio State University, 1984|
Brent D. Benjamin is a justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. He was elected to a full term in a partisan election in November 2004. His current term ends in 2016. He served as chief justice in 2009 and 2013.
Prior to joining the court, Benjamin was a lawyer with the firm Robinson and McElwee, PLLC, where he practiced for twenty years.
Awards and associations
- 1999: Graduate, Leadership West Virginia
- Member, Hocking College Archaeological Mission
Harman Mining v. Massey Coal (2007)
In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Massey Coal, reversing a $50 million award from the county court. Subsequently, photographs surfaced of Justice Spike Maynard and Massey CEO Blankenship on vacation in Monaco. The two said they simply were vacationing at the same place at the same time, and Maynard provided documentation to show he paid his own way. Still, the justices voted unanimously to rehear Harman's case.
Maynard voluntarily recused himself from all Massey cases, and Harman demanded Justice Benjamin also step down. Benjamin refused, and, on July 28, the Court ruled in the Harman Mining case against Massey Coal. Instead of simply stating his specific reasons for voting in the majority of a 3-2 vote when Massey's appeal of a $50 million verdict in favor of Caperton's company proved successful, the acting chief justice on the case issued a 58-page opinion, touching on a wide variety of topics.
See this link to read the full text of Justice Benjamin's concurring opinion.
Harman asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Benjamin should have stepped down from the Massey case.
See here for an MSNBC interview with Don Blankenship where he addresses Benjamin's refusal to recuse himself from the lawsuit.
Ultimately, the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2009, the court found that Benjamin should have recused himself, after benefitting from $3 million in campaign contributions. The ruling said that Benjamin's involvement violated the 14th Amendment, denying the plaintiffs due process of law. In response, Benjamin said the Supreme Court's "new standard...now places more due process emphasis on perceptions and independent actions of external parties than on a judge's actual conduct or record."
- Legal Newsline, "Massey foe wants U.S. Supreme Court to put W. Va. Justice off case," July 28, 2008
- The New York Times, "Editorial: Too Generous," September 7, 2008
West Virginia Governor election (2011)
In early 2011, a supreme court battle ensued about when to elect the next Governor of West Virginia.
Citizen Action Group (CAG) and local attorney Thorton Cooper said the state constitution and state code disagreed, and that a special election for governor should have been called quickly. Attorneys for Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Richard Thompson disagreed about whether an election should have been called. Secretary of State Tennant's legal counsel took a neutral position.
Kathryn Bayless, counsel for CAG, said only the court could require the legislature and Tomblin to act, and that an election was needed as soon as possible. Bayless argued that Article 7, Section 16 of the Constitution was clear in saying there “shall” be a “new” election for governor in the event of an absence.
“The people of West Virginia want a new election, and that is what the Constitution provides for,” Bayless said.
Tomblin went on to win a full term in the 2012 elections.
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan ideology of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 are more liberal. Benjamin received a Campaign finance score (CFscore) of 0.46, indicating a conservative ideological leaning. This is more conservative than the average CF score of -0.35 that justices received in West Virginia. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice, but an academic gauge of various factors.
- Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
- Courts in West Virginia
- News: Lawyer Assistance Program pilot project approved, July 30, 2012
- West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, "Justice Brent D. Benjamin"
- Project Vote Smart, "Justice Brent D. Benjamin (WV)"
- American Radio Works, "Justice for Sale?"
- The State Journal, "Brent Benjamin elected chief justice," January 2, 2013
- Project Vote Smart, "Justice Brent D. Benjamin (WV)"
- West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, "Justice Brent D. Benjamin," accessed August 7, 2014
- West Virginia Record "Benjamin concurs, but does so much more," July 28, 2008
- Charleston Daily Mail, "Supreme Court Justice takes strong stand," July 20, 2008
- The Wall Street Journal, "Justices Set New Standard for Recusals," June 9, 2009
- West Virginia Watchdog, "W.Va. Supreme Court Hears Arguments for Gubernatorial Special Election," January 12, 2011
- Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
|Former||Larry Starcher • Joseph Albright • Elliott E. Maynard • James Sprouse • Arthur M. Recht • Thomas E. McHugh •|