BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Hugh Caperton was born into the coal business, but for more than a decade he has spent more time in a courthouse than in a mine. The complex, intrigue-filled legal tale he will present to the Supreme Court this week was literally enough to spawn a suspense novel, but it boils down to this:
Caperton and his little coal company sued a huge coal company on claims that it unlawfully drove him out of business, and a jury agreed, awarding him $50 million.
That company's chief executive vowed an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court -- but first, he spent an unprecedented $3 million to persuade voters to get rid of a justice he didn't like and elect one he did.
That justice provided the decisive vote in overturning Caperton's multimillion-dollar award.
And the case raises profound questions about the way Americans elect their judges, the duty of judges to recuse themselves when the people who bankrolled their campaigns come before them and, even, the very meaning of judicial impartiality.