Supreme Court Rejects Appeal by Former Massey Energy CEO Blankenship--Update

By Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by a former coal executive convicted of safety violations linked to the 2010 explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 men.

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Don Blankenship, former chief executive of Massey Energy Co., received a one-year sentence after his 2015 conviction for conspiring to violate federal mining safety regulations, a verdict upheld by a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va. He was acquitted of more serious felony counts.

In his appeal, Mr. Blankenship's attorneys argued the case "stemmed from a rush to judgment at the highest levels of the federal government" and marked by "unchecked abuses of power by prosecutors intent on securing a conviction by any means possible."

They asked the court to overturn the verdict for several reasons. Jurors, they said, were told that to convict they must find Mr. Blankenship acted with "reckless disregard" for safety regulations, but weren't instructed that they had to find the defendant knew his conduct was unlawful.

The Justice Department, urging the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, said Mr. Blankenship "privately communicated to the Massey employee in charge of the Upper Big Branch mine that 'safety violations were the cost of doing business' and that it was 'cheaper to break the safety laws and pay the fines than to spend what would be necessary to follow the safety laws.'"

Court Rejects Gitmo Appeal

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Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from a Guantanamo Bay detainee challenging aspects of the military commission system established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to prosecute aliens for terrorism-linked offenses without affording them constitutional rights.

Ali al-Bahlul, a former communications aide to Osama bin Laden, has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. He was convicted of conspiracy in 2008 after a trial he largely boycotted other than to proclaim his fealty to al Qaeda.

Among other issues, Mr. Bahlul, who received a life sentence, challenged the military commission's power to try him for conspiracy, which traditionally has been viewed as a civilian offense rather than a war crime.

In 2006, the Supreme Court left that issue unresolved in a decision striking down President George W. Bush's order creating the military commissions that answered to him alone. Subsequent legislation added more procedural protections for defendants, but stopped short of providing the same constitutional guarantees required in courts-martial and civilian courts.

Justices Seek Government Views in Apple Case

In action from the court's business docket, the justices asked the Trump administration for its views on Apple Inc.'s bid to dismiss a consumer lawsuit alleging the company illegally monopolized the sale of iPhone apps.

The iPhone maker has filed an appeal with the high court asking the justices to hear the case and rule that iPhone-app purchasers don't have legal standing to proceed with their claims.

The Supreme Court deferred a decision on whether to intervene, instead asking U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco to weigh in first with the government's position on the case. That could take several months.

At issue is a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging consumers pay higher prices for iPhone apps because Apple maintains an exclusive marketplace for their sale and charges a 30% commission to app developers.

Apple denies that it has engaged in anticompetitive conduct and says app developers are the ones who set the prices for apps sold in Apple's App Store.

A federal appeals court ruled in January that the plaintiffs had standing to proceed with their lawsuit.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com and Brent Kendall at brent.kendall@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 10, 2017 12:30 ET (16:30 GMT)