Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney exclaimed in the early days of the last presidential campaign.
No, they’re not, Washington County Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said, more or less, in her ruling last week that a legal agreement could not remain sealed between three energy companies and a Mt. Pleasant Township family that claimed nearby gas drilling activities had compromised their health and the value of their property. Both the Observer-Reporter and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urged that the court reverse a previous ruling by now-departed Judge Paul Pozonsky that the settlement, which promises $750,0000 to Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and ongoing arbitration for any health problems their children could develop due to the drilling activity near their home, stay out of public view.
Pozonsky, who has since departed for Alaska, agreed with the companies, which include big regional players Range Resources and MarkWest Energy Partners, that they were entitled to a right to privacy, just like everyday folk. However, O’Dell Seneca disagreed, correctly pointing out that “corporations, companies and partnership(s) have no spiritual nature, feelings, intellect, beliefs, thoughts, emotions or sensations because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists...”
Both the Observer-Reporter and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pushed to have the agreement brought to light not out of nosiness or “mere curiosity,” as the energy companies suggested, but out of a belief that the public was obliged to know the terms of a settlement reached in a taxpayer-funded court that, therefore, should be part of the public record.
We applaud O’Dell Seneca’s decision and her support for the public’s right to know.