Court hears newspapers’ arguments to unseal Hallowich settlement

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The state Superior Court heard arguments Wednesday in Harrisburg on whether a Washington County judge’s decision to seal a legal settlement between a Mt. Pleasant Township couple and a group of gas drilling companies should be overturned.


Attorneys for the Observer-Reporter and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers are asking the Superior Court to unseal the a settlement agreement between Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream.


The Hallowiches claimed that nearby drilling operations, a compressor station and a gas processing plant made their property worthless and posed health risks to their family.


The lawsuit was settled Aug. 23, 2011, following a closed-door meeting in the chambers of now-retired Judge Paul Pozonsky. The case file was immediately sealed, and all parties were forbidden to discuss any portion of the agreement.


During the August 2011 session, a P-G reporter openly objected to the sealing of the settlement. The newspapers contend that sealing the record is in violation of the common law rights of the media.


On Sept. 6, 2011, the P-G petitioned the court to intervene, and the O-R joined in.


Observer-Reporter attorney Colin Fitch said they asked the court to rule in favor of the newspapers based on the merits of the case.


“There was no reason to seal this record under the facts of the case,” Fitch said.


Fitch said the defense adopted Pozonsky’s rationale that the newspapers should have sought to intervene in the case before final action was taken to seal the settlement.


No ruling was issued from the bench.


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