Among the targets was
But left unmentioned in the impeachment and the debate around it has been a peculiar vote by Walker that benefited the natural gas industry. In one of her earliest votes, Walker made a highly unusual decision to reopen a case and then reverse a Supreme Court ruling that would have forced drillers to pay more in profits to residents. Walker voted to reopen the case around the time her husband owned stock in a variety of energy companies, including those participating in West Virginia’s growing gas boom.
The case focused on whether natural gas companies are allowed to deduct a variety of expenses — for the transportation and processing of gas, for example — when they calculate payments for
Two months later, just weeks into her term, Walker provided the pivotal vote to have the court reconsider the ruling. The court then overturned it, siding with the industry and against the residents.
The decision has been a source of significant dispute. This year, lawmakers passed a bill to reverse the court’s second decision. That prompted
That case is pending in
Land ownership across
Much of the natural gas in
When the market for natural gas increased, it became more common for leases to pay a share of the sales. Residents and others owning the mineral rights would make more money as production increased.
But many West Virginians were stuck with older leases paying a set amount per year, regardless of production.
It was one of these leases, signed in 1906, that governed the deal between Patrick and
The Leggetts were supposed to be getting a 12.5 percent royalty on the gas produced from the new wells on their land. But they were actually getting much less, because EQT was taking deductions from their payments for expenses incurred after the gas was extracted.
The Leggetts and their lawyers thought the law was clear:
EQT, though, argued that the Leggett case was different, because the court was interpreting the 1982 statute, rather than simply deciding a dispute over the language of a gas lease.
So EQT and the Leggetts went to court, and the case ended up before the state Supreme Court — at a very unusual time.
The case was decided in
When Walker was sworn in a few weeks later, one of her first acts was to join the two justices who had voted against the Leggetts —
The Leggetts’ lawyers argued that Walker should not be involved in the case and should never have voted on whether to rehear the case because of her husband’s holdings in industry stock.
In court filings, the Leggetts’ lawyers said the loans from Walker’s husband accounted for 70 percent of her campaign funds, and that his energy stocks created a conflict of interest for her in the royalties case.
The decision on whether a justice should be recused is left up to the justice, and Walker declined to recuse herself.
First, she issued an
Then, five days later, just a day before an oral argument to rehear the case, Walker issued a second memo that said, “Out of an abundance of caution, my husband has divested himself of ownership of shares of stock of any company engaged in the business of producing coal, oil and gas, wind or solar energy.”
At the time, Walker declined through a court spokeswoman to say exactly when her husband sold his energy stocks or if he sold them before she voted to rehear the case. On Friday, Walker’s attorney declined to answer that question or otherwise comment.
In later court filings, EQT lawyers noted that it wasn’t clear how much energy stock
Lawyers for the Leggetts describe the stock sale as having taken place after
Three weeks after the new oral arguments, the court sided with EQT over the Leggett family: Post-production costs could be taken from leases covered by the 1982 law.
After that ruling, lawyers for the Leggetts tried to take the issue of Walker’s involvement to the
“We therefore implore the Legislature to resolve the tensions as it sees fit,” the court said.
In their 2018 annual session, which began in January, legislators wasted no time in taking the court’s advice and approving a bill to undo the court’s second Leggett decision.
Before the bill took effect, though, lawyers for EQT filed suit in
“The state is meddling in private contracts because the Legislature prefers one party to the other,” EQT lawyers wrote in a legal brief. “In other words,
Walker is mentioned in only one of the formal articles of impeachment approved by the House, which lists all of the justices and summarizes complaints about the court’s use of public funds.
A more specific impeachment article outlining Walker’s own spending on office renovations was rejected by the
In a prepared statement after the House impeachment vote, Walker said that, in her short time as a justice, she had been “committed to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch.”
“I agree that expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight,” Walker said.
The five-member court already has lost two members; another has been suspended.
Ketchum retired last month, and he subsequently agreed to plead guilty to one federal count of wire fraud. He was charged with using a state vehicle to take multiple trips to a golf club in
Then, last week, after the House impeachment vote, Justice
Loughry, whose spending practices prompted investigations of the court in the first place, was indicted in June on federal charges of fraud, making false statements and witness tampering. Loughry has pleaded not guilty, and his criminal trial has been set for early October. In the meantime, he has been suspended from the court.
Whatever the ultimate composition of the court, additional natural gas cases await it.
Another group of
Oral arguments are scheduled for
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