Newspapers to follow up on sealed Hallowich settlement

December 12, 2012

A request to unseal a legal settlement between a Mt. Pleasant Township couple and a group of gas drilling companies will be made anew Wednesday in Washington County Court.

Attorneys for the Observer-Reporter and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will file a petition Wednesday morning asking the court to grant an expedited half-day hearing to hear their arguments in favor of unsealing the legal settlement between Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream.

Their request comes on the heels of the state Superior Court’s ruling Friday that the matter should return and be heard by a trial court here.

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 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 the newspapers should have sought to intervene in the case before final action was taken to seal the settlement.

In its ruling, however, the three-member Superior Court panel found Pozonsky should have more “liberally” construed a state rule and accepted arguments from the newspapers.

Linda Metz has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2000, covering Washington County courts and politics, as well as the city of Washington. She previously was employed by the Tribune Review. She is a graduate of Point Park College, now a university, in Pittsburgh.

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