A Cabot Gas lawsuit against a Dimock Twp. man could go to trial after a judge rules on whether a state law designed to protect environmental whistleblowers protects him.
Ray Kemble, of State Route 3023, appeared in Susquehanna County court Monday to tell President Judge Jason J. Legg he deserves legal protection under the state’s Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP law.
Judge Legg must also decide whether a personal letter Kemble sent to him in September requesting more time before he was able to hire a lawyer satisfies a legal time limit to answer the lawsuit.
In an interesting related development, Cabot attorney Amy Barrette conceded to the court the impropriety of Cabot including a much publicized $5 million demand in the lawsuit.
Legg expressed distain for the demand claim, which drew substantial media attention when announced in August, and characterized it as an obvious publicity ploy.
“You do that because you hope it’s picked up by the newspapers,” Legg said.
While Cabot is free to pursue whatever monetary award a jury may decide, the $5 million claim is now technically stricken out of the lawsuit, Rich Raiders, Kemble’s new attorney of two weeks, told reporters shortly after the hearing.
After the morning arguments, Legg took the case under advisement, saying a decision would come at a later, unspecified date.
In August, Cabot sued Kemble in county court for his breach of a contract not to bad mouth the company reached after a different, earlier federal court lawsuit.
Kemble, who says Cabot’s lawsuit is in truth designed to silence him, maintains his repeated statements are beyond the constraints of the agreement as they expose Cabot’s poor environmental record and are protected First Amendment speech under SLAPP.
Kemble and Cabot signed a settlement agreement in 2012 after Kemble sued Cabot in 2009, also in federal court, for property damage and nuisances.
Cabot’s lawsuit claims Kemble and several lawyers engaged in frivolous litigation by suing them in federal court in April of this year as that lawsuit involved the same claims covered in the 2012 agreement. Kemble’s April federal court lawsuit was dismissed.
Besides Kemble, Cabot also sued Charles F. Speer, a Kansas City, Missouri, attorney, and the Pennsylvania law firm Fellerman and Ciarimboli, who they claim engaged in “willful, malicious and grossly negligent” litigation in their attempt to build an anti-fracking law practice.
Barrette told Legg Monday that Kemble did not have environmental activism or public participation in mind when he and the attorneys sued her client in April.
“They filed the lawsuit with the purpose of harassing Cabot and extorting money from Cabot,” Barrette told the court.
Barrette also told Legg that Kemble in effect brought the current lawsuit on himself. “Cabot is bringing the lawsuit because plaintiff (Kemble) brought a frivolous lawsuit,” she said.
Legg will also consider Kemble’s request to open for public inspection the still confidential settlement agreement he reached with Cabot, the document around which Cabot’s case revolves.
Despite assertions from Cabot attorneys that Kemble had been provided, via various methods, four copies of the agreement, Raiders and James A. Doherty Jr., an attorney representing the attorneys also sued in the case, said they still had yet to read it.
“The easiest way to settle this issue is to unseal the settlement agreement and see what’s going on out there,” Raiders told Legg.
Legg asked Jeremy A. Mercer, another attorney representing Cabot in the matter, how they could object to its unsealing as they had already included parts of it in publicly accessible papers filed in the case.
Mercer acknowledged that parts had, in that way, already been made public but said they were included only for strategic reasons. “We cited portions that dealt with procedural aspects of this litigation,” Mercer said.
However, before he had hired Raiders, Kemble wrote Legg to qualify his unsealing request.
“I agree to a single redaction: the settlement amount. (The amount printed is incorrect anyway),” Kemble wrote the court.
Wearing a back brace under a black leather jacket topped by a black kerchief on his head, Kemble addressed reporters Monday outside the courthouse entrance.
“Just remember: David took out Goliath. I’m David,” Kemble said.
Hours after Kemble’s remarks, Cabot spokesman George Stark e-mailed a statement.
“Mr. Kemble agreed to a settlement with Cabot in exchange for money years ago. He has since breached the terms of that agreement on numerous occasions and continues to do so. Today’s court actions are steps we must take to pursue justice,” it read.
Many observers consider Kemble the face of the anti-fracking movement and the de facto spokesman for several Susquehanna County residents who sued over fracking in different lawsuits.
In his public appearances, Kemble helped establish Dimock as the “Ground Zero” of the anti-fracking movement. In the news clips he can be seen holding large jugs of yellow-grey fluids he claimed came from his home’s taps. Some photographs depict Kemble armed with a handgun.
In its lawsuit, Cabot notes that Kemble received royalties from a 2006 oil and gas lease with Cabot which allowed Cabot to drill “as long as those activities were conducted outside of Kemble’s property and more than 200 feet from Kemble’s home.”