Judge Orders W.Va. Gov's Coal Companies To Pay Fines, Fees

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice gives a speech during a Department of Tourism conference Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at the Morgantown Event Center.

A federal judge in Kentucky has ordered companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to pay more than $1 million in fees and expenses in a lawsuit that accused them of defaulting on a mining contract.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove denied a motion by the James C. Justice Cos. Inc. and subsidiary Kentucky Fuel Corp. to reconsider the case and to conduct oral arguments. Van Tatenhove in September ordered the companies to pay $35 million to the New London Tobacco Market and Five Mile Energy.

Nearly all of the fees and expenses will be paid to the law firms for the plaintiffs and the rest will go to the plaintiffs, according to Van Tatenhove’s order Friday.

In addition, the judge ordered Lexington, Kentucky attorney Richard Getty and his firm, who represented Justice’s companies, to pay $10,000 to the plaintiffs within 30 days and warned Getty “not to present misleading and frivolous arguments to the Court in the future.”

The 2012 lawsuit accused the Justice companies of failing to pay mining royalty payments and retainer fees. Van Tatenhove said in his order that the lengthy case had already involved a three-day evidentiary hearing on damages alone.

“Defendants apparently equate ‘due process’ with success on the merits. Nothing is fair unless decided in their favor,” the judge wrote. “Defendants began this litigation with the same opportunities for discovery and presentation of evidence as any other litigant, but they have squandered these opportunities with poor strategic decisions and contumacious, combative conduct.”

Getty sought to reconsider the September order under a “rule 59” motion, but Tatenhove said such motions can only be granted if there was a clear error of law, newly discovered evidence, a change in controlling law or to prevent injustice.

The judge said the rule “is not an opportunity to re-argue a case.”

“Defendant’s persistence on this point calls to mind the mythological Hydra — it feels as though every time the Court addresses this argument in one motion, it appears again in two others.”

Justice has a net worth of more than $1 billion. Earlier this month, federal prosecutors said Justice’s coal companies agreed to pay more than $5 million for thousands of mine safety violations.