EARTHWORKS

Former Texas Mayor Files Complaint Against Range Resources Official, Attorney

Press Action

March 22, 2012
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Calvin Tillman, former mayor of DISH, Texas, on March 19 filed a formal complaint in Texas against David Poole, general counsel of Range Resources Corp., and Troy Okruhlik, an attorney at Harris, Finley & Bogle PC, which serves as outside counsel for Range Resources. In the complaint, Tillman alleged that Poole and Okruhlik violated provisions of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Tillman said in his complaint, filed with the State Bar of Texas Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, that Range Resources, via Poole and outside attorneys employed by Harris, Finley & Bogle, issued a subpoena for him in 2010 in a case—Scott and Rebecca Law vs. Range Resources Corporation and Range Texas Production LLC—for which he “had no knowledge of the merits” nor had ever had any correspondence with the plaintiffs in the case.

“It is now my belief that this subpoena was not issued as a matter of necessity in this case, but rather this mechanism was used by Mr. Poole, and Mr. Okruhlik, as an intimidation and punishment tactic, due to my negative statements regarding the natural gas industry in general,” Tillman said in the complaint.

Another subpoena was emailed to Tillman on Jan. 4, 2011, while he was still serving as mayor of DISH, notifying him that he was required to appear on Jan. 5, 2011, for a deposition. The cover letter on the attached subpoena was signed by Okruhlik, Tillman said. In the cover letter, according to Tillman, Okruhlik stated that Tillman had refused to accept the documents from certified mail. Tillman said the original documents had a Denton, Texas, mailing address and neither the town of DISH nor Tillman had ever received a notice from the U.S. Postal Service. The previous subpoenas were delivered by a courier, and Tillman said he had fully cooperated in receiving those subpoenas.

“Therefore, Mr. Okruhlik made a false statement, suggesting that we refused to accept the letter,” Tillman alleged in the complaint. “He also placed an undue burden on a third person, by attempting to have me deposed with only 18 hours’ notice.”

Tillman argued in the complaint that Okruhlik “made these false statements in order to not give me or my attorneys time to react to this request, thus forcing me into a deposition that I was not prepared for, which is an attempted violation of my legal rights.” Tillman said the attorney for the town of DISH and his personal attorney were able to react on short notice, and Okruhlik and Poole accepted a signed affidavit in place of an in-person deposition, Tillman said.

Range Resources and Okruhlik had not responded to a request for comment on Tillman’s complaint at press time.

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Range Resources is a prominent natural gas producer with operations across the United States, including the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region. In 2011, Range Resources sold the vast majority of its properties in the Barnett Shale in Texas.

Tillman has been a thorn in the side of the natural gas industry for several years. As mayor of DISH, a small town in Denton County, Texas, he oversaw the commissioning of an air quality study in 2009 that assessed compressors, condensate tanks, and major pipelines that process and transport natural gas extracted from the Barnett Shale play. The study found seven locations in the town where carcinogenic and neurotoxic emissions violated limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Tillman’s term as mayor of DISH ended in May 2011.

Given the lessons he has learned during his struggle for tougher gas industry regulations in Texas, Tillman has been invited to give speeches to residents in other communities affected by the industry’s activities. He also appeared in Gasland, a 2010 documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox that examined the impacts of natural gas drilling across the U.S.

In his complaint, Tillman also noted that Sharon Wilson, who maintains a popular blog site, www.TexasSharon.com, was issued a subpoena by Range Resources to provide information about a lawsuit filed against the company in Parker County, Texas, and to appear for a deposition. “The amount of documentation requested puts an undue burden on Ms. Wilson, and much of which has no relation to the lawsuit mentioned,” Tillman said in his complaint.

Steven and Shyla Lipsky of Parker County filed their $6.5 million lawsuit against Range Resources in state district court in June 2011, alleging water well contamination. In July 2011, Range Resources filed a counterclaim in state district court, seeking $3 million in damages from the Lipskys. Range Resources argued that the “plaintiffs’ unfounded and disparaging statements and their ‘expert’s’ trumped up efforts to involve the United States Environmental Protection Agency … have required Range to spend millions of dollars to establish its innocence.”

“The damage done to Range’s reputation is not as easily calculated, but is more harmful in the long term. Range is entitled to recover for these damages,” the company said in its counterclaim.

In his complaint, Tillman argued that neither he nor Wilson had any information that was not previously obtained by Range Resources. Also, depositions by Tillman and Wilson would not provide Range Resources with information to defend itself in the lawsuits, he argued. “But rather this tactic is used to silence those who are critical of the natural gas industry and has no substantial purpose, other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person not involved in the matter,” Tillman said in the complaint.

In his complaint, Tillman said that Poole sent him a formal letter on March 5 in which Poole denied any knowledge of Range Resources issuing a subpoena to Tillman. “Mr. Poole’s name was on three separate documents, which issued these subpoenas,” Tillman said. “Therefore, it is not only clear that he was aware of the subpoenas, but that he was also a part in issuing them.”

In the March 5 letter, Poole said Range Resources issued the subpoena for Wilson’s deposition because the company “is seeking discovery in order to prepare for trial of its counterclaim” against the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit against the company in Parker County. Wilson “was the recipient of and responded to an email from a high level EPA official regarding the EPA order that is the direct result of the actions Range’s claims are based on,” Poole wrote in the letter.

According to Poole, Range Resources believes Wilson “has a relationship with the ‘expert’ who provided misleading information and we believe she has had communications with the homeowner that are relevant to the issues in the lawsuit.”

In his complaint, Tillman also pointed out that in a deposition of Steven Lipsky, a Range Resources attorney specifically asked Lipsky if he knew Tillman, “attempting to pull me into that case as well,” Tillman said. Lipsky said he did not know Tillman. “These intimidation techniques must stop now,” Tillman said in his complaint.

What Happens Next?

On its website, the State Bar of Texas explains that it reviews all complaints. “If it [the complaint] alleges facts that, if true, would be a violation of the disciplinary rules, it will be classified as a formal complaint,” the State Bar says on its website. “If it does not allege facts that are a violation, it will be classified as an ‘inquiry’ and dismissed.”

If the complaint is dismissed, it can be appealed to the State Bar’s Board of Disciplinary Appeals, whose decision is final.

If a grievance becomes a formal complaint, the attorney in question will be informed of the complaint and asked to respond within 30 days. The Chief Disciplinary Counsel will then conduct an investigation to determine whether there is just cause to believe the alleged professional misconduct occurred. Based on its findings, the matter is either presented to a grievance panel for dismissal or proceeds to litigation.

“The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel keeps confidential all information concerning any pending complaint(s),” the State Bar says on its website. “However, if the lawyer is found to have committed professional misconduct and receives a public sanction, information about the grievance is no longer confidential.”

Tagged with: texas, supeona, range resources, psyops

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