Smith had been scheduled to break the news about the public hearings to the families of the 29 miners who died in Upper Big Branch during a private meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Beckley.
Under federal law, MSHA has broad authority to conduct mine accident investigations through formal public hearings. In recent years, though, agency officials have instead conducted closed-door interviews and quietly gathered physical evidence, reporting their findings many months later in technically worded reports.
A month after the April 5 disaster, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced that her agency would provide that kind of transparency, with a series of public hearings, forums and town meetings that would examine the Upper Big Branch explosion.
Since then, though, MSHA has continued to conduct closed-door interviews, has rarely updated families on the investigation's progress, and has not responded to numerous requests for public records about safety issues at Upper Big Branch prior to the explosion.
Charleston lawyer Tim Bailey, who represents several Upper Big Branch families, urged Goodwin to "conclude his investigation as quickly as possible to minimize the delay in our receipt of this important information."
Rachel Hanna Moreland, a Lewisburg lawyer who represents several Upper Big Branch families, lost a lawsuit that tried to force MSHA to conduct its disaster interviews in public session.
"The families deserve and demand answers," Moreland said Friday. "[The] DOJ should send a representative to the family meeting to answer their questions and concerns, along with Patricia Smith."
Goodwin said neither he nor anyone from the Justice Department would do that.
Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers, said the union hopes Goodwin's request "means that there is a sound, substantial and ultimately successful criminal case being built against the persons responsible" for the mine disaster.
Massey Energy officials did not comment on Goodwin's request or MSHA's announcement.
Davitt McAteer, who is leading an independent investigation of Upper Big Branch at the request of former Gov. Joe Manchin, said his team plans to quote from the witness interview transcripts when their report is released. After learning of MSHA's decision Friday, McAteer said his team is considering whether to hold its own public hearing, as was done following the 2006 Sago Mine disaster.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.