"Setting up dummy corporations to cherry-pick a legal venue, like Patriot did, is morally wrong," said UMW President Cecil Roberts. "This case belongs in Charleston, not in Manhattan."
To win its motion to move the case, the UMW is required to show that the change of venue is "in the interest of justice or for the convenience of the parties."
Jennik said that the court system in West Virginia understands the coal industry better than judges in New York and Patriot's $1.3 billion in "legacy liabilities" to miners and pensioners are the biggest financial issue being decided in the case.
"It is the workers who stand the most to lose in this case and what is convenient to them should carry great weight," Jennik said.
But Jennik was unable to answer several questions from the judge about the number and location of Patriot workers and retirees, their union status, and the comparative pay and benefits at union and non-union operations.
Chapman repeatedly questioned the notion that justice would be best served by the bankruptcy case being heard in West Virginia, where people may know more about the coal industry, but also where "there are political campaigns" about the industry's positive and negative impacts, and debates among constituencies in the bankruptcy, including workers and environmental regulators.
"The fact that you want to move the case to a place you believe -- it sounds like you believe -- is more sympathetic to your constituency gives me some pause," the judge said. "I'm struggling with the very strong part of your argument that says, 'Send this to West Virginia. They know us. They know coal.'"
Citing one example, Jennik said that federal courts in West Virginia are more familiar with complicated questions about mine reclamation and long-term environmental liabilities related to coal company bankruptcies.
"This industry is very specialized, particularly in the environmental damage that can be done in coal mining," Jennik said.
Along with its union pension and health-care liabilities, Patriot cited environmental costs in its bankruptcy filing, specifically noting that the costs of treating selenium pollution could run into "hundreds of millions of dollars."
Last month, lawyers for Patriot and various citizen groups told U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers they had reached an "agreement in principle" that would help the company manage its selenium costs. Details have not been made public.
The hearing, and the video feed from New York, is scheduled to continue Wednesday.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.