Lawyer: Public access critical to public confidence in West Virginia mine disaster case

IndustriesAssociated Press

A lawyer for media organizations says a gag order in the criminal case of the West Virginia coal mine explosion that killed 29 men violates the First Amendment by barring virtually anyone from discussing it publicly.

David Schulz told a three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that some victims' relatives believe the sweeping gag order also prohibits them from testifying before lawmakers and regulators.

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U.S. District Judge Irene Berger's gag order was imposed in January. She said it was needed to protect former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's right to a fair trial.

Blankenship was the head of the company when the Upper Big Branch Mine exploded in 2010. He is charged with conspiring to violate safety and health standards.