On Friday afternoon, the judge extended that stay until next Thursday, when she said she would hold the closed-door hearing requested by Goodwin and Westfall.
The civil case was filed by the Massachusetts Pension Reserve Investment Trust, which held shares of Massey Energy stock. Defendants in the case include Massey Energy, former CEO Don Blankenship, former President Baxter Phillips, former Vice Presidents Eric Tolbert and Chris Adkins, and former board members Richard Gabrys, Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, Dan Moore, James Crawford, Robert Foglesong. E. Gordon Gee and Stanley Suboleski.
Last year, the defendants tried unsuccessfully to have the civil case dismissed and have said in court documents that they did nothing wrong. In a report released in June 2011, the Massey board argued the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners was the result of an uncontrollable inundation of methane gas that the mine operator could not have foreseen or prevented.
But four government and independent investigations blamed the Upper Big Branch deaths on a pattern by Massey Energy of violating federal standards concerning mine ventilation and the control of highly explosive coal dust, both of which set the stage for a small methane ignition to turn into a huge, coal dust-fueled explosion.
Goodwin reached a deal not to prosecute Alpha Natural Resources for any Upper Big Branch criminal liabilities that it inherited when it purchased Massey Energy in June 2011. That deal required the firm to spend $80 million during the next two years on mine safety improvements and create a $48 million mine safety research trust fund. Alpha also agreed to pay $46.5 million in restitution to families of the disaster victims and $35 million to resolve pending Massey safety fines, including $10.8 million levied for violations related to the Upper Big Branch explosion.
Goodwin's deal allowed federal officials to pursue potential criminal cases against any individuals -- including Massey executives -- for violations related to the mine disaster.
So far, one former Upper Big Branch miner, a former mine superintendent and a mine security chief have gone to prison. An official from another Massey mine is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in a deal to cooperate with prosecutors.
During a plea hearing in February, that other Massey official, David C. Hughart, alleged that Blankenship was part of a decade-long conspiracy to hide safety violations from federal inspectors.
Through his lawyer, Blankenship has said he did nothing wrong.
In January, during a sentencing hearing for former Upper Big Branch superintendent Gary May, Berger held a private bench conference discussion with prosecutors and May's lawyer to hear them explain how May has, as part of a plea agreement, cooperated and will continue to help prosecutors in the investigation.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.