Verdicts & Settlements

No talking about fracking, settlement gag order says; were kids bound too?

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A natural gas company has apparently parted ways with an outside lawyer after controversy erupted over a settlement agreement that included a lifelong ban on talking about fracking that may have bound two children.

Details of the nondisclosure agreement were uncovered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which requested a transcript of a closed-door hearing in which case records were sealed. The newspaper obtained the transcript but not the confidentiality agreement that banned Chris and Stephanie Hallowich from talking about the $750,000 settlement of their suit claiming that drilling for shale gas next to their property had damaged their property value and their health.

James Swetz, the lawyer for Range Resources, said during the hearing that “I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.” The couple’s children were 7 and 10 at the time.

Legal scholars told the Post-Gazette that they aren’t aware of any settlements that gag the children of parents in legal settlements, and such agreements may not be enforceable.

Range Resources now says the settlement agreement wasn’t intended to apply to children, MSN News reports. Swetz no longer represents the company, a Range Resources spokesman told the publication. Range’s general counsel, David Poole, has since written to the lawyer for Chris and Stephanie Hallowich, saying the company has “never, at any time, had the intention of seeking to hold a minor child legally accountable for a breach of that provision of the settlement agreement.”

The Hallowich lawyer, Peter Villari, told MSN News that despite Poole’s letter, the company has “the legal right to do so, unequivocally, based on the terms of an agreement that they refuse to release to the public.”

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