Former Massey CEO’s assistant asked about the Don Blankenship she knew

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — She worked within earshot of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for eight years in a double wide trailer in Belfry, Ky. and Sandra Davis, Blankenship’s executive assistant in his final years with Massey, said she never saw him instruct, order or agree to any violations of mine safety laws.

Davis returned to the stand at the Charleston Federal Courthouse on Tuesday morning as Blankenship’s trial resumed following the Columbus Day holiday.

Under cross examination, Davis repeatedly answered, “Yes, sir,” as Eric Delinsky, one of Blankenship’s attorneys, asked her if Blankenship was tough to work for, demanding and had high expectations.

But, she told the jury, she never saw Blankenship do or say anything that indicated he wanted Massey to violate mine safety laws. Instead, she agreed, it looked to her like Blankenship demanded safe mines.

Davis served as Blankenship’s executive assistant from 2002 until he left Massey in 2010. She was promoted into the role. Her work history with Blankenship dates back to the 1980s.

As executive assistant, Davis handled all of Blankenship’s correspondence. Because he did not use e-mail, part of her job was to print off e-mails with attachments and then send any necessary replies based on his handwritten notes.

She compiled massive files on all of Massey’s operations, including the Upper Big Branch Mine, for Blankenship each day.

Her testimony was used to introduce more than 20 documents into evidence for both the prosecution and defense on Tuesday morning. The defense memos and other documents focused on statements Blankenship made about improving mine safety.

Among the government’s documents was the press release Massey Energy released after the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster that killed 29 coal miners along with Blankenship’s approval of that release. In it, Massey stated, “We do not condone any violations of MSHA regulations and strive to be in compliance with all regulations at all times.” A similar statement was issued for shareholders.

It’s a statement the federal government has returned to multiple times in this case.

Blankenship is accused of conspiracy to violate mandatory mine safety and health standards, making false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and securities fraud for alleged actions prior to and in the wake of the UBB Disaster.

Under further cross-examination Tuesday afternoon Davis confirmed additional documents she had received and written for Blankenship. The prosecution objected more than a dozen times and there were more than 10 bench conferences with the judge and attorneys that couldn’t be heard by the jury or spectators.

One document allowed into evidence by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger listed 15 safety initiatives planned at Massey in 2010, the year of the UBB explosion. The document was sent to Blankenship by another company official. The items included further roof bolt protection, rock dust survey kits and additional fire suppression efforts.

A second document listed the results of a survey of Massey miners in March 2010, a month before the explosion, More than 90 percent of those surveyed said they believed the company was committed to safety and safety initiatives while 66 percent said they thought they had enough miners to properly do their jobs.

On Tuesday morning, the jury heard 13 audio recordings made during phone calls in Blankenship’s Massey office. All were entered into evidence and were expected to be released publicly by Wednesday.

“This game is about money,” Blankenship is heard saying at one point.

In a separate call with Baxter Phillips, a former Massey executive, Blankenship said he was “really concerned” about production levels and, because of that, claimed he needed to “get 1,000 people off payroll.”

The longest recorded call played involved Blankenship, Phillips and Roger Hendrickson, former Massey director of investor relations, with talk focused on a press release dealing with Massey’s production. In it, Blankenship said Massey had a chance to do some “propaganda” about safety with the release. He was so detailed as to point out a misspelling in a draft.

In all, the jury has heard 18 audio recordings during Blankenship’s trial. The recordings vary in length and have been played for the jury without any explanation of the surrounding conversations or dates of the recordings. Davis identified the participants, but not in all cases.

Blankenship talked about the running of coal in a call with Chris Adkins, former Massey chief operating officer, and continued issues with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “We do some dumb things,” Blankenship said of Massey’s operations. He said, at times, he thought if it weren’t for MSHA, “we’d blow ourselves up.”

In a separate call, Blankenship and Adkins discussed the best times to sell Massey stock. “If something goes bad wrong,” Blankenship is heard saying, “you lose a lot of money.”

Tuesday was the fourth day of testimony for the trial that started on Oct. 1 with jury selection.

Davis will be back on the stand Wednesday morning for further redirect testimony.

(Jeff Jenkins also contributed to this story)

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