updated 1/18/2008 2:56:33 PM ET 2008-01-18T19:56:33

West Virginia's state Supreme Court chief justice is removing himself from a pending case involving one of the nation's largest coal companies.

This, after vacation photos surfaced showing him in Monaco with the company's top executive.

Chief Justice Spike Maynard says he's stepping down from the case even though he "no doubt" that he could be fair and impartial in it.

Maynard had been part of a 3-to-2 majority ruling in favor of Massey Energy Co., overturning a $76.3 million judgment in a contract dispute with another coal company, Harman Mining. Harman alleges fraud committed by Massey plunged it and its head, Hugh Caperton, into bankruptcy. The court is preparing to reconsider that ruling.

A lawyer for the head of Harman Mining suggests that Maynard's recusal should negate his earlier vote, leaving it a 2-2 tie affirming the original verdict in favor of his client.

Harman is also challenging the impartiality of another justice. It says the head of Massey Energy spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign that helped to boost that justice into office in 2004.

Photos emerged of Maynard with Don Blankenship, head of Massey Energy, in Monaco in 2006. In one picture, the men are sitting side by side, smiling over empty glasses at a cafe along the Riviera as the Mediterranean sun sets behind them. In others, they're posing by the seaside.

The two have known each other about 30 years and socialize a few times a year, Blankenship said, but it was the first time he met up with Maynard on vacation.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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