The state Superior Court in Harrisburg decided Friday that an attempt by the Observer-Reporter to unseal a legal settlement between a Mt. Pleasant Township couple and a group of gas drilling companies must be heard by a local trial court.
Earlier this year, the O-R and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed arguments seeking the unsealing of the agreement between Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream.
The Hallowiches had claimed that nearby drilling operations, a compressor station and a gas processing plant made their property worthless and posed health risks to their family. Their lawsuit was settled Aug. 23, 2011, following a closed-door meeting in the chambers of now-retired Washington County 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 the petition.
Pozonsky contended that the newspapers should have sought to intervene in the case before final action was taken to seal the settlement.
As a result of Friday’s ruling, the newspapers will now have the opportunity to present the argument in Washington County Court.