Remember when the big stink arose early this summer about the Attorney General’s Office seemingly helping out-of-state gas companies that were trying to cheat Virginians out of gas royalties? Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli tried hard to distance himself from that.
This is what we heard from Richmond on that:
It was lower-level flunky in the AG’s office (an assistant attorney general) that did it. She sent 5 emails to lawyers representing those energy companies, advising them on tactics in a lawsuit they were defending. She was a bit “overzealous.” She did it in an effort to defend the constitutionality of state law.
Inconveniently for Cuccinelli, one of the gas companies his flunky advised is a subsidiary of a out-of-state energy conglomerate company that’s contributed $111,000 to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign.
Now, thanks to the Bristol Herald-Courier, we know that the “advice” wasn’t limited to a measly 5 emails. It was more like 52:
[Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon] Pigeon sent at least 52 emails to lawyers of defendants EQT Production and CNX Gas since the lawsuits were filed three years ago, reveals a Herald Courier review of court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
In June, the attorney general said his office joined the court cases only to fight constitutional challenges to the Virginia Gas and Oil Act, which is at the heart of a series of lawsuits seeking at least $28 million in natural gas royalties now held in state-mandated escrow accounts set up and monitored by the Gas and Oil Board.
. . .Yet in a June 2012 report, U.S. Magistrate Pamela Meade Sargent wrote that none of the dozens of emails Pigeon traded with defense lawyers seemed to touch upon any constitutional issues.
Instead, Pigeon’s emails appear to have focused on such topics as the effect of a jury pool, judicial orders and other case issues, suggest references in court documents. She sent many of those emails months after a senior judge ruled on the constitutional challenges and after the attorney general’s office dropped out of the case.
Which makes it look like the AG’s office was working even harder than we had thought before, against Virginians’ interests, on behalf of a Pennsylvania campaign contributor, and for different reasons that Cuccinelli’s office has suggested.
Whether or not Cuccinelli was aware of what his assistant was doing at the time she was doing it is still up for debate. But we can assume that he was fully aware of a related matter: the effort to suppress release of those those emails. The AG’s top deputy was enlisted to prevent that.
From the Associated Press:
Motions filed in federal court in Abingdon show Cuccinelli’s office opposed turning over the emails to the plaintiffs. Cuccinelli’s top deputy unsuccessfully tried to assert a legal doctrine that allows confidential communications between attorneys for separate parties in a case who have a common interest.
First the AG’s office appears to side, behind the scenes, with an energy company who has given the AG huge donations, against the interests of Virginians. Next the AG’s top deputy actively attempts to make sure Virginians don’t find out about it. And when we do, we find out the office put a heck of a lot more effort into the “advice” than it did before.
It kind of makes you wonder what’s coming next.