Tony Oppegard, a lawyer for Morris' widow, Stella Morris, said Friday morning he was shocked to learn that MSHA was not issuing the required fines.
"It's unbelievable, really," Oppegard said. "The bottom line is, why would it take them 18 months to assess a penalty in the first place?
"This is very troubling," Oppegard said. "To think that you can have a fatality like what occurred in Bud's case that is not addressed by the agency is going to be troubling to the family."
In 1969, Congress required monetary penalties for all violations of mandatory mine health and safety standards. Automatic fines were considered a major hammer toward forcing mine operators to comply with the law.
But imposition of sufficient fines and collection of those penalties from mine operators has been a persistent problem since the law was passed.
Stickler said last week that his staff had found citations without fines dating back to a few hundred citations issued in 1996.
Stickler said that he was reviewing preliminary MSHA computer data for the period from 1996 to 2006, but did not want to make that detailed information public.
"I don't want to hand out numbers, because I don't think they're good numbers," Stickler said.
"There's not a trend that shows it's increasing," he added. "But it is a problem that appears to have been around for a few years."
Other MSHA officials said the preliminary data showed about 4,000 citations issued between January 2000 and July 2006 did not have penalties assessed.
On Friday, MSHA staffers were continuing to study agency computer records to try to make sure they had accurate figures.
Matthew Faraci, an MSHA spokesman, said the problem involved "a small percentage of citations."
"They appear as if they haven't been assessed, but we don't know for sure," Faraci said. "We're trying to figure this out."
The day after Stickler learned of the problem, MSHA began a plan to better track citations and ensure that they were assessed penalties promptly.
"The goal is to make sure that citations and orders are assessed in a timely fashion," Faraci said.
Jay Mattos, MSHA's director of assessments, said much of the problem stems from the agency's not assessing penalties within an 18-month window after citations were issued.
Mattos said the 18-month policy stemmed from a court case, but that MSHA lawyers were reviewing it to determine its validity and scope.
The 18-month time limit was spelled out in an August 1999 MSHA policy. It was meant to define what is a "reasonable time" for issuing penalties, which is the standard spelled out in federal law.