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“The Price of Justice” is ground-level view of the epic legal struggle that was Caperton v. Massey.
Friday, May 10, 2013
A brief disclaimer: Laurence Leamer’s “The Price of Justice” discusses a series of court cases that lasts for the better part of a decade.
Leamer’s prior work, which focuses mostly on celebrity biographies (including a trilogy about the Kennedy family), makes his decision to document the court cases against Massey Energy, the now-infamous coal company in West Virginia, seem a bit bizarre. But when he was younger, Leamer went “under cover” in the mines as a reporter and the subject intrigued him; thus, he set out to document all of the people involved in this case.
And what a group of characters they are: Hugh Caperton, the plaintiff who was driven out of business by Massey, and who, despite his protests of being a “coal man,” has actually been privileged for much of his life. There’s also cool and calm Don Blankenship, the chairman of Massey who ironically did live a hardscrabble existence, and who is often cast as someone just a few steps removed from Darth Vader. Then there’s a bevy of attorneys and judges, each of them interesting in their own way, either because of their good country charm or because of the vigor and intensity with which they pursue this case.
But back to the disclaimer: Though Leamer has excellent pacing, and he works to make almost every person a living creation for the reader, the plot still centers around an ongoing court case that lasts for a decade, and therein lies the problem.
As Leamer documents yet another trial of literally dozens in the saga, the narrative struggles to maintain cohesion. This is not necessarily Leamer’s fault: It just takes a large amount of patience, much as is must have for the litigants, to step through the courtroom doors yet again for another round of depositions, accusations, cross-examinations and the like.
Readers who love learning about the machinations of the justice system can do no wrong picking up “The Price of Justice.”
Ironically, although Leamer tries to explore the issue of class, the entire battle does boil down to Caperton and Blankenship, two men who have spent most of their adult lives free from want. In West Virginia, so stricken by poverty, a lawsuit by one millionaire against another reeks of irony, but we see only hints here and there of the class struggle, and usually that is merely based on how the attorneys choose from the jury pool. Class, to the attorneys, is little more than another tactic to use in their drawn-out war.
Leamer never really explores how the miners themselves, who spent time in the mines that were driven out of business by two men jockeying for wealth, felt about the lawsuit, and precious few of them appear in the narrative until the end of the saga.
Even though Leamer obviously identifies somewhat with the miners — we are often reminded of just how many of them lost their jobs — we never actually meet many of these miners, and as a result, Leamer’s thesis, that this entire case is built on class, never quite gets under way .
Yes, there are judges who supposedly are influenced by the infinitely more wealthy Blankenship, but, in the end, we see too much of the upper echelons of a battle fought somewhere in the clouds, not on the ground.
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