Review: The Price of Justice: A True Story of Two Lawyers' Epic Battle Against Corruption and Greed in Coal Country

Laurence Leamer's The Price of Justice offers convincing evidence that readers don't have to turn to the fiction of John Grisham for an engrossing story about a legal battle between the forces of light and darkness. It's a fast-moving, intelligent account of the fierce struggle against a rapacious coal magnate, waged over the course of more than a decade in courtrooms from Boone County, W.Va., to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The heroes of Leamer's book are David Fawcett III and Bruce Stanley, close friends and litigators at two elite Pittsburgh firms. In 1998, they agreed to represent Hugh Caperton, the owner of the bankrupt Harman Mining Company, against the coal giant Massey Energy. In that case, which their firms undertook on a contingent fee, they alleged that the decision of Massey CEO Don Blankenship to breach a contract with Harman was intended solely to destroy the much smaller company, break its union and seize its coal reserves. While the $50-million verdict the lawyers eventually secured was on appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Blankenship contributed $3 million toward the election of a friendly justice. After Blankenship got the result he wanted, the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where noted lawyer and former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson was enlisted to argue for a new judicial conflict of interest standard.

Leamer effectively navigates the byzantine course of the original Harman litigation and other cases spawned as a result of Fawcett and Stanley's work, including one involving the death of two miners. Whether he's writing about Hugh Caperton's emotional fight to stave off financial ruin or the singleminded effort Fawcett (whose first marriage collapsed in the midst of the litigation) and Stanley brought to their representation, he's able to breathe life into arid legal arguments about contract law and economic damages. In 1971, Leamer spent several months working in a mine, and his book is enriched by an empathy for the struggles and pride of the coal mining life.

The Price of Justice succeeds because Leamer never loses touch with the human dimension of the story, and invites favorable comparison with Jonathan Haar's 1996 classic A Civil Action. Watching two talented, committed lawyers devote themselves to a righteous cause, we can see the power of the law when mind and heart unite to seek justice. --Harvey Freedenberg

Shelf Talker: Laurence Leamer (The Kennedy Women; Sons of Camelot) follows an epic civil litigation from West Virginia's coal country to the Supreme Court.

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