Probe sought of Virginia AG's office role in suit

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm •  Published: June 10, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia state senator said Monday he is seeking an investigation into the role of the attorney general's office in a natural gas lawsuit after a federal judge wrote she was shocked a lawyer from that office was assisting two energy companies being sued by landowners for gas royalties.

Sen. Phillip P. Puckett is a Democrat whose southwestern district encompasses landowners who are suing the companies. He said he is asking the inspector general's office to investigate if the attorney general's office had violated any laws or ethics rules.

Puckett noted that one of the companies, CNX Gas Co., is owned by Consol Energy Inc., which had donated $100,000 to the Republican gubernatorial campaign of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

"The attorney general of Virginia or any elected officer of the state, including me, should be doing the right thing for the people that we serve and not be on the side of someone else just because of campaign contributions or any other reasons," Puckett said in a conference call.

"I think it's time we clear the air," he said.

In a statement, Cuccinelli rejected "in the strongest possible terms" the suggestion that Consol donations influenced his office's handling of the case.

"Our job in this case and others is to defend Virginia laws, regardless of who stands to benefit," he said.

In an opinion issued Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent cited emails between an assistant attorney general and EQT Production Co. and CNX, Pittsburgh-area energy companies. The attorney, Sharon Pigeon, advises the Virginia Gas and Oil Board.

Sargent wrote: "Shockingly, these emails show that the board, or at least Pigeon, has been actively involved in assisting EQT and CNX with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the motions before the court."

The passage was in an opinion in which Sargent recommends that the case of several landowners be certified as a class action involving thousands of property owners and tens of millions of dollars in royalties.

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