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Judge says law clerk barred from Blankenship case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The federal judge presiding over the criminal trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship said Thursday that one of her law clerks is not working on the case because the clerk wrote a law review article about the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and worked as a legal clerk for the United Mine Workers union.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said that the law clerk, Cynthia Wildfire, was “appropriately and effectively screened” from the case since late January, when Blankenship’s defense lawyers raised the issue in a then-private telephone conference call with Berger and federal prosecutors.

The judge revealed details of the matter in two orders issued Thursday in response to a motion Blankenship’s lawyers filed last week asking for “clarification” from the court about the issue. Berger also made public court filings about the issue, denying a motion from Blankenship that the documents be sealed.

“First, the case was not assigned to her, but to another law clerk, per internal office procedure wholly apart from, and prior to, any concern for potential disqualification,” Berger said in one of the new orders.

William Taylor, Blankenship’s lead defense lawyer, raised the matter with Berger during the Jan. 30 telephone conference. He noted that Wildlife had worked for about a year as a legal clerk with the UMW and had written an article about Upper Big Branch when she was a student at American University Washington College of Law.

Berger said in one of Thursday’s orders that she “immediately barred the law clerk from any work on the case…

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