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Judge orders Alpha to fund Blankenship’s defense

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Alpha Natural Resources must pay for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s legal costs as Blankenship fights an indictment charging him with mine safety and securities crimes, a business court judge in Delaware ruled Thursday.

Chancery Court Judge Andre G. Bouchard concluded that Blankenship is entitled to have Alpha pay his defense lawyers under “the unambiguous terms” of an agreement through which Alpha bought Massey Energy in 2011.

The decision is a victory for Blankenship, who faces a trial scheduled to start July 13 and has unpaid post-indictment legal fees that — according to the ruling — had reached $5.8 million as of April 1.

“We are pleased but not surprised,” said William Taylor, Blankenship’s lead defense lawyer.

Alpha spokesman Steve Hawkins said the company is reviewing the ruling.

 Blankenship faces up to 30 years in prison if he’s convicted of all three felony counts in an indictment that alleges he put coal production and profits ahead of mine safety at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 workers died in an April 2010 explosion.

For some period of time, Massey and then Alpha apparently were paying Blankenship’s legal costs related to various investigations of the mine disaster and Massey safety practices. Agreements to pay legal costs are relatively common for corporate officers.

Earlier this year, Alpha informed Blankenship that the company no longer would pay his defense costs…

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