Beaver County Blue

Progressive Democrats of America – PA 12th CD Chapter

Range Resources Pays Damages when Plaintiffs Gagged

Posted by randyshannon on July 31, 2013

Confidential agreement should have been part of Washington County Marcellus Shale case record

Newly released transcript also reveals details of lifetime gag order on Hallowich family
July 31, 2013 10:02 am

Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette
The Hallowich family on a hillside on their property in 2010.
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A just-released Washington County Court transcript of an August 2011 settlement hearing in a high-profile Marcellus Shale damage case shows the case records should have included a missing confidential settlement agreement, and reveals details of an unusual lifetime “gag order” that covers two minor children involved in the case.

According to the 16-page transcript, then-Washington County Court Judge Paul Pozonsky approved sealing the court records with the settlement agreement “attached thereto” in the private hearing held to settle the claims of Chris and Stephanie Hallowich against Range Resources, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and Markwest Energy.

The Hallowiches, who had been long-time critics of shale gas drilling, claimed that Marcellus Shale gas development — including four wells, gas compressor stations and a 3-acre wastewater impoundment — adjacent to their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Washington County, damaged the family’s health and the value of their property.

The Hallowiches signed an affidavit as a condition of the settlement that stated their family’s health was not damaged by the gas operations.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter successfully petitioned the court to unseal all of the Hallowich case records, but when more than 900 pages of records were released in March, the confidential settlement agreement was missing from the file.

 

“This shows clearly the settlement agreement was part of the record,” said Frederick Frank, an attorney representing the Post-Gazette.

The hearing transcript, which provides details of the $750,000 settlement paid to the family, shows the Hallowiches reluctantly agreed to the terms of the settlement to remove their children from what they considered an unhealthy environment. They also raised questions about how the lifetime “gag order,” as the judge called it, included in the settlement that required the entire family to never discuss Marcellus Shale or fracking would be enforced against their then 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

According to the transcript, the Hallowiches’ attorney, Peter Villari, said that in 30 years of practicing law he never had seen a nondisclosure agreement that included minor children. And, although he advised the Hallowiches to accept the settlement, he questioned if the children’s First Amendment rights could be restricted by such an agreement.

Judge Pozonsky, who has since resigned, responded that he didn’t know, adding, “That’s a law school question, I guess.”

Although the settlement hearing, from which reporters from the Post-Gazette were barred, occurred almost two years ago, a transcript of the hearing was not produced until Mr. Frank requested it last month.

Washington County Court President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ordered the transcript, which is scheduled to be filed this morning with the Washington County Prothonotary.

The release of the transcript does not settle the case. Range and Markwest have appealed Judge O’Dell Seneca’s order unsealing the case records to the state Superior Court.

“We believe the transcript fully supports our position that the actual settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and defendants was part of the court record, and moreover it was reviewed by the court, which held extensive discussions regarding its terms,” Mr. Frank said. “The agreement should be returned to the record as clearly indicated, and as a judicial record should be made available to the public.”

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.
First Published July 31, 2013 7:00 am
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3 Responses to “Range Resources Pays Damages when Plaintiffs Gagged”

  1. Bob Schmetzer said

    Gagging children for life? Having a family in such distress that they have to not tell all of the damage to the family to get money to take their children to safety ? When did we loose the right that our home is our castle? Our safe spot ? Hiding all of the story cheats the public from protecting their families, property, pets, investment, health, and peace in their home. It is our right to know ! Range has made itself a BAD NEIGHBOR and a danger to the community. They also have led people to believe through their PR and PSY-OPS departments, that all are safe and will become rich beyond their wildest dreams. Sitting at the table , knowing you have destroyed your home and health while looking at a pile of money on the table is a personal decision. Question is, was it worth it?

  2. Iris Marie Bloom said

    It’s frighting, dangerous and bad news not only for this family but for public health, when — even in the process of reporting about Range Resources’ bullying behavior — Matt P, Range Resources spokesman, is able to use the press to deny the health impacts and actual air and water contamination the Hallowich family actually experienced. Because they can’t speak, and Matt P can, Range is STILL able to insert doubt into the minds of any readers of most of this coverage. You would NEVER know that the children had nosebleeds, that the family experienced burning throats, burning eyes, headaches, ringing ears and other symptoms; that acrilonitrile and other poisons did turn up in their water, etc. We posted all this here so please feel free to link, view, share, comment, and cross post:

    http://protectingourwaters.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/9780/

    • Bob Schmetzer said

      Thanks Iris for exposing that the PR representative of Range still has an advantage to post their position and the Hallowich family does not. I am looking forward to the Pitt. Post Gazette’s attorney having the courts realize that Range broke the confidentially agreement with their letter to outside public sources. Only then can the truth come out and we can use the info to protect our families and communities from the criminal activity. If the state won’t do it, the people will.

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