Billionaire GOP Governor Has Been Sued Dozens Of Times For Unpaid Bills

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R)Screengrab / 59 News / YouTube

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The United Mine Workers of America went to court last year to ask a federal judge to force the Justice companies to pay.

According to ProPublica, the coal companies owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) and his family have been involved in more than 600 lawsuits across dozens of states, “including many filed by workers, vendors, business partners and government agencies, all alleging they weren’t paid.”

  • Among the plaintiffs were a mining equipment company in Virginia, a bank in Maryland, an insurance company in New York, state tax collectors in Kentucky, and even lawyers and accountants hired by the Justice companies to represent them.
  • Coal miners working for Justice companies have filed dozens of suits to collect money they said was due to them when they were laid off without legally required warnings or when their paychecks bounced, according to the review.
  • The companies also had pledged to provide health insurance, but failed to do so after they stopped paying the miners’ premiums upon retirement, which meant that their coverage had been terminated.

“I know that waiting on medical treatment can do irreparable harm to my health,” said David Polk, who previously suffered from an abnormal heartbeat. “But I cannot afford to pay the bills.”

  • ProPublica reported that the medical expenses for the retirees, “compounded by decades of work in southern West Virginia’s coal mines,” were often costly. One court filing said that a retiree named Roger Wriston and his wife ended up with a bill for over $12,000.
  • Hundreds of other retired miners across West Virginia were facing the same issues, so the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which was the same miners’ union that had endorsed Justice’s election as governor in 2016, took legal action and asked the federal court to force the companies to pay.
  • Initially, lawyers for Justice’s companies opposed the union’s request, “arguing that the miners had not followed proper procedures for appealing a denial of health-benefit claims. Then, the companies settled, promising to clear up the matter and ensure benefits were provided,” ProPublica wrote.

“We’ve dealt with them a lot over the years, with people’s benefits being on and off,” said Josh West, a UMWA district representative. “That’s just the way the Justices have done business.”

With the upcoming June 9th primary election, Justice’s companies have moved to settle some major cases.

  • ProPublica reported that in early April, Justice’s coal operations made a deal with the US Department of Justice to pay more than $5 million “in delinquent mine safety penalties, some of them dating back more than five years.”
  • Typically, mine safety violation fines do not result in lawsuits, but “when Justice’s companies refused to pay the penalties imposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal government sued. Initially, the Justice companies had sought to have the case dismissed, saying the government wrongly filed it in federal court in Virginia,” while the defendants are incorporated in West Virginia.

“Their position has been and is that they pay what they owe,” said Christopher Pence, a lawyer who handled the mine safety case for Justice’s companies.

As he runs for reelection, Justice, who is the state’s richest man, emphasized that he and his companies always pay what they owe.

“He does not pay his bills. I know that very well,” said Will Brownlow, president of New London Tobacco Market Inc., which last September won a $35 million ruling in what appears to be the largest courtroom loss for Justice’s empire.

Read the full report here.

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