West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on a former West Virginia coal baron who maintained after his 2015 federal conviction that he had been railroaded by prosecutors:
After his 2015 federal court conviction, former West Virginia coal baron Don Blankenship maintained he had been railroaded by prosecutors. It turns out he was right — according to a magistrate judge.
Blankenship headed Massey Energy in 2010, when an explosion at the firm’s Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 people. His 2010 conviction was on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety regulations.
After spending a year in jail and paying a $250,000 fine, Blankenship ran for the U.S. Senate, but lost in the 2018 Republican primary election.
He had appealed the conviction, but it was upheld by a federal appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear another appeal.
But this week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn, in Charleston, recommended that Blankenship’s conviction should be vacated. Whether that happens will be up to U.S. District Judge Irene Berger — who presided over the 2010 trial.
Aboulhosn’s decision is troubling, and not just because it came in the Blankenship case. The magistrate concluded that Blankenship’s rights were violated because prosecutors withheld from his attorneys certain information their investigation had uncovered.
Had that information been produced, “its tendency would have been favorable” to Blankenship, Aboulhosn wrote.
Prosecutors did not act out of malice toward Blankenship, the magistrate added.
If all of this is true — and, again, Berger will have to rule on that Blankenship indeed may have been railroaded.
Even prosecuting attorneys are supposed to be acting in the interests of justice, not just out of a desire to win convictions. That means that if evidence helpful to the defendant’s attorneys is uncovered, they ought to be made aware of it.
Whether the defendant is an unpopular coal executive or a John or Jane Doe no one ever heard of, simple fairness dictates he or she get a fair shake in the courts. If Aboulhosn is right, Blankenship did not receive that.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on a bill to create programs to ensure West Virginia kids have access to food over the summer:
House Bill 162 was one of those bills that got lost in the shuffle during the 2019 legislative session, mainly because the of the jockeying back and forth in the West Virginia Legislature on the omnibus bill.
HB 162 (which passed the House of Delegates during one of the special sessions, 95-0, with five members absent) would create programs to ensure West Virginia kids have access to food over the summer and other times when school isn’t in session. A lot of these programs already exist, but this particular bill would provide a hub for information, so people know where to go in their part of the state to get meals for their children. The West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition would also be a centralized location where counties could view other plans already in place or new ones as they develop.
But it wouldn’t be a centralized government program. If passed, each county would assess its own needs and how to best meet them, providing that plan to Child Nutrition.
This makes a lot of sense, because the obstacles to getting meals to children in Kanawha County probably aren’t the same as more rural areas. Transportation seems to be a problem everywhere, but how best to transport food to children or children to food can vary greatly depending on the region.
All of the meals are reimbursed, so it wouldn’t cost the communities anything. The legislation would also provide guidelines and a simpler process for volunteers to get training.
The bill addresses a critical issue. Thousands of West Virginia children live in poverty. More than 10,000 meet the federal definition to be considered homeless. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and Families Leading Change, one child in every five in the state is struggling with some type of food insecurity. While West Virginia is one of the best in the nation at feeding kids while they’re in school — through breakfast programs and free or reduced lunches — the numbers are drastically different in the summer. About 130,000 children eat lunch at school in West Virginia. Over the summer, the number of children participating in a food program is about 10,000, according to statistics published in a story from West Virginia Public Broadcasting last year.
While not every child who eats at school needs access to a summer feeding program, supporters of HB 162 estimate those programs are only reaching about 10 percent of the kids who need them.
All that has to happen for this bill to go into effect is the Senate calling a special session (which Sen. President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, could do during September interims while all the legislators are already at the Capitol) to get the bill passed and to the governor.
In past special sessions this year, the Legislature has had no problem suspending rules to make sure it had time to pass its education reform bill, so why should this be any different? It could be passed in a matter of minutes, the Senate could adjourn and Gov. Justice could sign the bill.
If the Legislature waits until the 2020 regular session, it’s very possible programs wouldn’t be ready to go by the end of the school year, because of all of the preparation required for each county to assess needs and come up with a plan. Why put West Virginia kids through another summer of hardship when they could be getting help sooner?
For all of the divisiveness that has shown itself in the Legislature as of late, this is something surely everyone can agree needs to happen. We’re not aware of any legislators in favor of kids going hungry. Nutrition directly affects these kids’ quality of life, their ability to learn and focus during school and retain knowledge over the summer.
This truly is a no-brainer.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on a development in the fight against robocalls:
There is more good news to report in the war on robocalls front. Just last week, West Virginia joined a coalition of 51 attorneys general and 12 phone companies in reaching an agreement that will result in the phone companies adopting eight principles to fight illegal robocalls. The announcement was made by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
According to Morrisey, the bipartisan, public-private agreement will help protect consumers from illegal robocalls and make it easier for attorneys general to investigate and prosecute those individuals behind the illegal schemes.
“This is another step forward in the effort to get rid of these terrible robocalls,” Morrisey said of the 51 state agreement. “Our team has been working on this for a long time, and we continue to work with other smaller providers to bring every telecommunications provider into the fold.”
Morrisey initiated discussions earlier this year with several phone companies in an effort to gain their commitment to expedite the deployment of scam-blocking technology.
The agreement advanced by the states seeks to combat the robocall problem through both prevention and enforcement efforts.
Under the new plan, phone companies will work to prevent illegal robocalls with implementation of call-blocking technology at the network level, along with through greater availability of easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools, all at no cost to the consumer, according to the attorney general’s office.
The phone companies will also monitor their networks for robocall traffic and implement technology to authenticate that calls are coming from a valid source.
According to Morrisey, the phone companies also will help the attorneys general with enforcement by investigating and taking action against suspicious callers. That includes notifying law enforcement and state attorneys general of suspicious callers and working with government officials to trace origins of the illegal calls.
Morrisey said the participating phone companies also agreed to gain a better knowledge of their customers to assist in identifying bad actors and make efforts so that any phone company they contract with cooperates in traceback identification.
West Virginia joined the North Carolina-, New Hampshire- and Indiana-led principles with attorneys general from every state and Washington D.C. The coalition of companies involved in the new partnership include AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream.
We welcome last week’s announcement. It is another important step in eliminating the nuisance known as robocalls. It doesn’t matter if you have a cellphone or a landline, the odds are pretty good that you recently received an unwanted robocall.
Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, we will be able to answer our phones without worrying about robocalls.
No one should have to deal with this daily nuisance.