Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dozens of Improper E-mails Surface from Cuccinelli's Office to Gas Company

Yesterday I wrote about the growing scandal that Ken Cuccinelli is facing arising from his office's improper assistance to a gas company litigant in a lawsuit brought by Virginia landowners to recovery gas royalties.  As noted in that post, from my experience as a former in-house attorney to an oil company who is familiar with Virginia's Oil and Gas Act, there is no legitimate basis for the AG's office to have been assisting the gas company litigants.  Now, the Bristol Herald Courier is reporting that a slew of additional e-mails from one of Cuccinelli's assistant attorney generals assisting an oil and gas company owned by one of his biggest campaign contributors have surfaced.  The bottom line message to be learned is that Cuccinelli is lying about his involvement in what increasingly appears to be improper intervention in a private civil lawsuit in exchange for over $100,000 in cash contributions.  If Bob McDonnell has a problem with the feds, then Cuccinelli does as well, but even more so.  Here are highlights from the Herald Courier:

ABINGDON, Va. — Court records show that an assistant attorney general sent dozens of emails to lawyers representing the two energy companies now being sued in a federal class-action case over natural gas royalties in Southwest Virginia.

This is in addition to a series of five emails that came to light months ago, when a federal magistrate judge criticized the staffer for appearing to advise the lawyers on how to fight the lawsuits.

With the larger batch of emails, the magistrate judge eventually ruled that nearly half failed to meet the common-interest legal doctrine that state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli now insists allowed his staff member to ethically communicate with those lawyers.

Pigeon sent at least 52 emails to lawyers of defendants EQT Production and CNX Gas since the lawsuits were filed three years ago, reveals a Herald Courier review of court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.

In June, the attorney general said his office joined the court cases only to fight constitutional challenges to the Virginia Gas and Oil Act, which is at the heart of a series of lawsuits seeking at least $28 million in natural gas royalties now held in state-mandated escrow accounts set up and monitored by the Gas and Oil Board.

Speculation over the relationship between the state’s highest legal office and corporate lawyers has become a political hot topic: Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate vying with Democrat Terry McAuliffe for the governor’s seat, up for grabs in November.

Adding to the fire is the role CNX parent company CONSOL Energy has as one of the top financial contributors to Cuccinelli’s campaign. The company has funneled $111,044 into his campaign coffers since 2012, according to campaign watchdog Virginia Public Access Project.

Last week, the state’s inspector general confirmed to the Herald Courier that his office is conducting an investigation of whether Pigeon wrongfully advised the energy company lawyers and said it could take months to wrap up.

As for Pigeon’s emails, it was early 2011 when the lawyers seeking the royalties on behalf of a group of Southwest Virginia landowners began to ask for her communications with the corporate attorneys.

Cuccinelli’s office fought the release [of the e-mails] and argued that the common-interest doctrine allows lawyers representing separate clients to trade information as long as they have similar interests.

U.S. Magistrate Pamela Meade Sargent wrote that none of the dozens of emails Pigeon traded with defense lawyers seemed to touch upon any constitutional issues.

Instead, Pigeon’s emails appear to have focused on such topics as the effect of a jury pool, judicial orders and other case issues, suggest references in court documents. She sent many of those emails months after a senior judge ruled on the constitutional challenges and after the attorney general’s office dropped out of the case.
 The AG’s office jumped back into the lawsuits only to fight the plaintiff’s request for the emails.

Something is clearly rotten in this picture.  Personally, from all my dealings with the Attorney General's office over the years, I find it hard to believe that Pigeon advised the gas companies without direction from above.  One can only hope that Pigeon will opt to not fail on her sword and will come clean about who was directing her to assist the gas company defendants.   If that happens, I suspect the feds will be opening an investigation of Cuccinelli. 

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