Mine Blast Plea: Dust, Documents and Deaths

coal miners denied time

As the  article (via @Law360) points out, Ex-Massey Exec Gets 42 Months In Mine Blast Case this Massey mining manager pleaded to “pre-notifying” about MSHA inspections (and conspiracy pertaining thereto).  It’s interesting that, in his plea colloquy, he was was apparently careful and narrow, almost ascribing a business-culture source for the conduct:

“I’m sorry for what I’ve done — pre-notifying about mine inspections,” Hughart said at his sentencing, according to the Associated Press. “I grew up that way. I accepted it as common practice. I know better now, and I apologize.”

That kind of approach needs to be handled gingerly, though.  The larger case landscape is important for sentencing considerations (implicitly, if not explicitly):

Hughie Elbert Stover, Massey’s former security chief, was sentenced to three years in prison in February 2012, after being convicted of lying to members of the FBI and the MSHA as well as directing the destruction of security-related documents in order to stymie the investigation into the causes of the mining disaster.

In March 2012, former mine superintendent Gary May pled guilty to charges that he hid from federal investigators hazards at the Upper Big Branch mine such as excessive coal dust piles and poor air flow. The disaster killed all but two miners working in the mine, making it the worst mining accident in the U.S. since 1972.

The combination of the deaths of the miners; the document-destruction; and the false statements was overwhelming.

Here’s another take (via @WSJ):  Former Massey Coal Executive Sentenced to Prison

Edge Of The Cliff

Don’t argue with your spouse on the edge of a cliff.

edge of clift

If you do, your case (or that of your spouse) may end up like this couple:

	(l.) Jordan Linn Graham, 22, and Cody Lee Johnson, 25. Graham, 22, of Montana, has been charged with second-degree murder by pushing her husband, Cody Lee Johnson (seen here), off a cliff in Glacier National Park during an argument in July.

Newlywed wife charged with pushing husband off cliff in Glacier National Park.

This case is a federal case because it occurred in a national park.  And, it’s homicide, not business crime.  But, as the article (via @WSJ) —   Accused Montana Newlywed Faces a Wide Range of Punishment   — and Sentencing Law and Policy (Professor Berman) point out, it’s interesting because it shows the potential discretion that federal judges have in sentencing.

On the other hand, a substantial majority of the federal bench came of professional and judicial age in an era when the Sentencing Guidelines were mandatory.  Sometimes, the court needs prodding from defense counsel that it does, in fact, retain significant discretion.  Creativity and persistence is just as important at sentencing as at any other part of a white-collar case.