Thursday, August 15, 2013, 11:24 AM

Magistrate Judge's Opinion Prompts Inspector General Investigation Into Attorney General's Office

An article in yesterday's Daily Progress stated that "Virginia' inspector general is still investigating whether an attorney general staffer wrongfully advised energy company lawyers in a on going federal court battle with regional landowners seeking natural gas royalties."

The federal lawsuit is a class action between landowners and two energy companies regarding $28 million in natural gas royalties which are currently held in escrow accounts by the State of Virginia.  Virginia law allows energy companies, in some circumstances, to siphon natural gas below multiple tracts of land.  The royalties are then placed in escrow pending a determination of who owned the gas and who is entitled to the royalties.  The Attorney General's office is involved to defend the constitutionality of the Virginia Gas and Oil Act.

The investigation into the Attorney General's office appears to have been prompted by a comment from Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent expressing shock that an attorney from the AG's office was "actively involved in assisting" the energy companies "with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the motions before the court."  This comment was made in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation granting in part Plaintiff's motion for class certification.

This story has been the subject of numerous newspaper reports and editorials.

It will be interesting to see the inspector general's report.  It is not uncommon for lawyers representing different parties in a case to share information with each other, especially if their interests align.  Yet, the criticism in this case seems to be that the AG's office was improperly taking sides in a civil case and the suggestion (by some) that the AG's office was being influenced by campaign contributions to current Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

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