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Judge orders W.Va. governor's coal company to turn over financial information

A judge granted a federal prosecutor's motion to depose employees of a coal company owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for information about the company's ability to pay a $1.2 million court-imposed sanction.

In a late December 2018 request to probe employees and representatives of Justice Energy Co. Inc., U.S. Attorney Michael Stuart said conversations with the company's counsel had indicated Justice Energy might not have the financial resources to pay the fine. The company followed up with a status report saying it was examining its funds and assets and gathering information to provide to the U.S. attorney's office, but on Jan. 2, a judge ordered Justice Energy to provide all requested information by Jan. 25 and to make employees available for depositions no later than Feb. 15.

"The defendant's decision to simply ignore court orders, deadlines, and obligations precipitated the imposition of the contempt sanction," U.S. District Judge Irene Berger wrote in a footnote to the order. "Continuing to flout the court's directives is not a strategy likely to engender positive results."

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia imposed the sanctions in 2016 after Justice Energy failed to make payments to James River Equipment Virginia LLC to settle a debt and did not respond to a court order. Justice Energy had agreed in 2014 to pay James River Equipment six monthly installments of $30,000.

A recent review of court documents conducted by Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional journalism collaborative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, found at least four other cases in which Justice-family companies failed to pay suppliers for goods or services, even after they were compelled by courts to do so. In some cases, U.S. marshals authorized to seize assets from the Justice family companies' bank accounts found the accounts empty or closed.