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Gov. Joe Manchin's office acknowledged Wednesday that he conferred twice with chemical giant DuPont as it planned to appeal a $196 million punitive damage award in a West Virginia pollution case.

His office also reviewed a draft friend-of-the-court brief offered by the chemical giant.

But the draft was used for reference only, said administration spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg, and the brief Manchin ultimately filed urging the state Supreme Court to hear DuPont's appeal was his own.

"Here, the proposed draft was provided, we politely reviewed it, said 'Thanks, but no thanks,' and ultimately decided to go another way," she said.

The court is in summer recess and has not yet decided whether to take the case.

The revelation about communication between the governor's office and the chemical giant is the latest twist in a complex class-action lawsuit involving nearly 8,000 people exposed to toxic chemicals that spewed for decades from a zinc-smelting plant in Spelter.

While the case centered on medical and liability issues, the plaintiffs also argued that close ties to DuPont made environmental regulators and other state officials complicit in allowing a 112-acre waste pile tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead to sit in the center of town until 2001.

After a five-week trial in county circuit court last fall, jurors convicted DuPont of wanton, willful and reckless conduct and ordered it to pay punitive damages to deter future misconduct. Total damages were $382 million.


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