- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

PINEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia jury has ruled that a coal company owned by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice did not contaminate the drinking water wells of residents, but the plaintiffs’ attorneys say the jury may have been improperly influenced by the presence of coal employees throughout the trial.

The jury returned the verdict Thursday in the case against Justice-controlled companies Dynamic Energy Inc. and Mechel Bluestone Inc., media outlets reported.

Fifteen families who live near Dynamic Energy’s surface mining complex at Coal Mountain in Wyoming County had said in a lawsuit that the operation contaminated their wells between 2006 and 2007 to the point that the water’s no longer safe to drink.

James M. Brown, a lawyer for the companies, praised the jury’s decision, saying testimony from an inspector for the state Department of Environmental Protection was especially important. The inspector testified that the agency had determined the mining wasn’t the cause of any damage to the wells.

“Fortunately, the facts meant more to this jury of Wyoming County residents than distortions and absurd attempts to allege that mining harmed these water wells,” said Tom Lusk, Justice’s chief operating officer for coal, in a statement. “Thankfully, this frivolous lawsuit did not end in more harm to our good West Virginia coal miners and their families.”

Kevin Thompson, an attorney for the residents, said his side has been given 10 days to file a written motion. He said it will argue that the presence of United Mine Workers members in the courtroom may have led to some improper influence of at least one witness in the case, as well as the jury.

“We are concerned about undue influence on the jury,” David Barney Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Register-Herald (http://bit.ly/1s0LGtF). “Trying a case in coal country is one thing, but we are concerned some things occurred that made the jury feel they had no other option but to render the verdict they did,” he said.

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