Outside counsel hired to handle potential challenge

PARKERSBURG — An outside counsel was hired to represent the West Virginia Secretary of State in the event of a challenge to Don Blankenship’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate in November.

Blankenship lost the Republican primary for the Senate in May, then 12 days later accepted the Constitution Party’s offer to run for the federal office as its candidate in November. West Virginia House Bill 4434, also known as the sore losers law, went into effect June 5 and is intended to prevent a losing candidate in a primary from taking advantage of the later filing deadlines to run in the general election with a different party or unaffiliated.

No decision has been made by the Secretary of State about a Blankenship candidacy, however, a certificate of candidacy has yet to be filed, Michael L. Queen, deputy chief of staff and director of communication for the Secretary of State, said.

Blankenship has said he expects a challenge to his candidacy. The filing period for a certificate of candidacy is between July 20 and Aug. 1.

The Attorney General generally represents state offices, but Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was a candidate for the U.S. Senate and defeated Blankenship, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and three other candidates for the Republican nomination in May.

The state through the office of the Attorney General hired Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, which has offices in Huntington, to assist the Secretary of State. The firm submitted the most competitive proposal, according to a June 5 letter from Steven A. Travis, deputy general counsel with the Attorney General.

“…the office of the Attorney General determined that due to the potential conflicts that may arise in these potential actions, the office deems it appropriate and in the best interest of the state to appoint qualified outside counsel to assist the Secretary of State with these important matters,” the letter said.

This was the appropriate way to handle the situation, Curtis Johnson, press secretary for the Attorney General, said Tuesday.

“The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office conducts its business with the utmost professionalism and will handle any issues the right way,” Johnson said. “As such, our office has given the Secretary of State’s Office the ability to select counsel of its choosing. That counsel, not the Attorney General, will defend the state law in representation of the client – the Secretary of State’s Office.”

Blankenship is a former CEO of Massey Energy. He spent a year in a federal prison for a misdemeanor conviction for conspiracy to violate mine safety laws over the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 coal miners.

Morrisey opposes Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin in November.