Caperton Saga Leaves 15-Year Imprint on Reed Smith Duo

, The Legal Intelligencer

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First Published May 6, 2013

It's the kind of case that has an attorney up at 3 a.m. pondering the next play or just the seeming injustice of it all. And for two Reed Smith attorneys, the case has been going on for upward of 15 years.

The book has already been written on Bruce Stanley and David Fawcett III's crusade on behalf of client Hugh Caperton — in fact, it comes out Tuesday. But the case in some ways was just brought back to the beginning with a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that breathed new life into Caperton's case against Massey Energy and set the stage for yet another trial in West Virginia.

Most attorneys would consider a win at the U.S. Supreme Court a case — if not career — highlight. Fawcett and Stanley were part of a team of attorneys who in 2009 won Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal, which found the $3 million Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship spent on electing a judge to the West Virginia Supreme Court was grounds for that judge's recusal in the appeal between Caperton and Massey.

But for the Reed Smith duo, the win was just another stepping stone to getting Caperton justice for what they have argued was Blankenship and Massey's concerted effort to drive Caperton out of the coal business and into bankruptcy.

Blankenship and his companies have denied the allegations against them, arguing they appropriately initiated a force majeure provision when looking to end the coal purchasing contract Blankenship's company had with Caperton's company.

"The only way [for Fawcett and Stanley] to relax is if Caperton wins his verdict in court," according to Laurence Leamer, the author of The Price of Justice, which chronicles the Massey-Caperton saga from the perspective of Caperton, Fawcett and Stanley.

Fawcett, tall and thin and sharply dressed, is a Pittsburgh-born and raised attorney who started with this case in 1998 while at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Stanley, who wears his heart on his sleeve instead of expensive cufflinks, is a West Virginian who as part of his experience since joining the case in 2000 has seen the best and worst of his state's culture and judicial system. The two men share a core set of values and a 15-year journey, but their differences are many.

When Stanley talks about Caperton, the story begins to flow quickly. His passion and frustration are readily apparent.

Even after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled last month that Fawcett and Stanley were right in arguing a prior verdict on a separate dispute between Caperton and Blankenship didn't bar under res judicata principles a second trial on separate claims, Stanley couldn't help but express frustration at the tortured path it took to get that ruling.

"You can guess the sense of vindication you feel when the law you've been preaching for the last 10 years, the Virginia court said 'yes that's right,'" Stanley said. But he noted all the time and energy lost to prove that fact was "disheartening."

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