CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is no question former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and ex-Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury know each other.
The link between Blankenship and Thornsbury became a point of conflict in a Mingo County court case that began in the late 2000s. It came up again when Thornsbury was indicted on a federal charge earlier this year.
That federal investigation is ongoing, as is an investigation into Massey conduct in connection to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Massey operated the mine at the time of the explosion.
The office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, in charge of the investigations, won't say what role if any the ties are playing in either case at the moment.
"We have no comment about any connection between the two investigations," said Melvin Smith, a spokesman for the office.
Attorneys for Thornsbury declined comment or did not respond to Daily Mail requests. Attempts by the Daily Mail last week to find Thornsbury in Williamson were unsuccessful.
The controversial Blankenship, who some hold responsible for the deaths of 29 coal miners in the UBB tragedy, downplayed any ties he shares with the former judge.
"In summary, I know most Mingo County politicians, and Thornsbury is one of them," Blankenship said in an opinion piece in today's Daily Mail.
"As for why this is so important to the West Virginia press, I'm not sure. As an individual that grew up in Mingo County, I know lots of fellas who are in jail or have been. So too does most any Mingo County resident."
Blankenship, who resigned from his role with Massey shortly after UBB, agreed to comment only in the form of a written piece for the Daily Mail's opinion page.
He likened his relationship with Thornsbury to those he shares with other "politically active" Mingo County officials. He lists a dozen current or former county officials.
Some allegedly helped Thornsbury and slain Sheriff Eugene Crum derail an FBI investigation and face federal charges. Some are mentioned in federal court documents but aren't currently charged with a crime.
He also says he knows or has met the current and former leaders of the United Mine Workers of America, a former Mine and Health Safety Administration official, convicted pill mill doctor Diane Shafer and two men connected to a 1980s Mingo County bank heist.
Blankenship doesn't go into detail about how well he knows all of them, but he does mention some specific interactions.
He says he's probably run into Thornsbury at Starters, a popular restaurant in downtown Williamson partially owned by the judge.
Blankenship also acknowledged Thornsbury represented Massey as a private attorney in the 1980s, while Blankenship led Massey subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing.
There are several ties between the pair and Dr. C. Donovan Beckett, a local osteopath. Beckett is in business with Thornsbury and ran his 2008 campaign for re-election. He also had a contract to work as doctor for Massey.
In his piece, Blankenship also says Beckett is his personal doctor.
Private attorneys Kevin Thompson and Dave Barney pointed out ties with Thornsbury, Blankenship and Beckett in an eventually successful attempt to remove the judge from a 2009 civil case.
The case involved more than 700 people from outlying areas of Mingo County accusing Massey and it's subsidiary, Rawl Sales & Processing, of contaminating the local water supply.
In 2009, during one of several attempts to reach a settlement, Thornsbury suggested appointing Beckett as the administrator of a trust set up for those suing the coal company.
Citing connections between Thornsbury, Beckett and Blankenship, Thompson and Barney called on the judge to recuse himself.
They also pointed to a fundraiser for Thornsbury held by Beckett and attorneys of Jackson Kelly -- the same law firm representing Rawl in the case -- and alleged meals Thornsbury and Blankenship shared at Starters.
Thornsbury refused to step down, and the attorneys for Rawl pointed to a donation Thompson made to Thornsbury's campaign as evidence he also supported the judge. Several restaurant employees signed affidavits saying the pair didn't eat together and Thonrsbury denied having any personal relationship with Blankenship.