Dimock resident Ray Kemble, once the front and center face and voice of the national anti-fracking movement, stood in Susquehanna County Common Pleas Court Monday morning, unable to sit and using an aluminum walker for support.
Kemble’s attorney, Rich Raiders, told Judge Jason Legg that Kemble was too ill to even take a seat next to him in court and that was why his client has not been able to sit and answer questions from lawyers for Cabot Oil & Gas, who sued him for breach of contract last year.
“This has been a very difficult case for me to handle,” Raiders told Legg before formally asking to be removed as Kemble’s attorney.
When given an opportunity to speak, Kemble said that he no longer wanted Raiders to be his lawyer.
“I fire Rich Raiders as my attorney. I am seeking new counsel,” Kemble read from a prepared statement.
Kemble told Legg that he expected to hear from a new attorney at which time Legg said Raiders would be allowed out of the case. Kemble said that he would appear with that new attorney at the next scheduled hearing late next month.
Cabot sued Kemble last year for breach of contract, claiming that he bad mouthed them after taking over $180,000 as part of a settlement reached after he sued them in 2009 for polluting his water well, which he claimed had in turn caused him various health issues.
Because Kemble has not sat and answered questions in the form of a deposition, lawyers from the Houston-based gas giant want the judge to find him and two others involved in his case in contempt of court. A contempt finding in this case could result in jail time. Legg took no action on Cabot’s request Monday and continued the case until late next month so Kemble could appear with a new lawyer.
Amy L. Barrette, an attorney for Cabot, told Legg that while Kemble claimed he was not well enough to even sit in a chair in his courtroom, he apparently felt healthy enough to take thousands from anti-fracking activist groups and travel across the county to speak at fracktivist events.
“It’s only when he’s facing cross examination, when he’s facing cross examination under oath, he’s unable to testify,” Barrette told the judge.
A doctor’s note she requested from Raiders did not indicate that Kemble was too ill to testify, Barrette said. “Nothing about it said that he was injured or unable to attend,” she said.
She also objected to allowing Raiders to withdraw as Kemble’s counsel. “Earlier in the case, Mr. Kemble said he had a hard time finding an attorney,” Barrette reminded the court, adding that the Dimock man now faces contempt charges that would allow him to face prison time. She also said he needed an attorney present for the deposition.
Part of the hearing focused on the actions — which Barrette called the “unauthorized practice of law” — of Kemble associate William Huston of Endicott, N.Y. Other interference was also caused by another Kemble friend, Craig Stevens of Virginia, Barrette said.
“There’s been a lot of interference from Mr. Huston,” Raiders told the judge. Raiders provided the judge with printouts of disparaging social media posts made by Huston harshly criticizing Raiders’ representation of Kemble. The attorney asked for the court not to read the documents into the record. They were, however, admitted as exhibits by the court.
“Communication’s been limited,” said Raiders, who called his relationship with Kemble “untenable.”
Raiders also told the court Huston had been making “a giant mess of the case” and had been soliciting online for a new attorney that would work to quash the deposition subpoena.
Raiders said Kemble had been informed that Cabot has the right to depose him in the case, and he felt that filing to quash the subpoena would amount to filing a “frivolous suit.”
Judge Legg told the attorney he appreciated his professionalism in that regard.
Barrette described Huston’s interference as “horrible legal advice.” Barrette asked the judge to refer the matter to District Attorney Marion O’Malley’s office.
Legg denied her request as he is the county’s only judge and would end up hearing the case, but said that Barrette was herself free to file a private criminal complaint with the district attorney’s office.
Legg did note that he had a “stiff concern about the unauthorized practice of law.”
Huston has at press conferences represented himself as Kemble’s spokesperson and maintains a strong anti-fracking social media presence.
“I am not interested in being an attorney,” Huston nevertheless told Legg Monday.
“My actions were only to help a friend” he said, offering to the court that he only helped as a “stenographer and researcher” for Kemble.
Huston had also maintained that he had not been properly served his subpoena to appear for a deposition. A new subpoena, reviewed on the stand by the judge, was delivered to him by a deputy sheriff in the courtroom.
Huston was also ordered to reappear with an attorney back in court next month.
Following the hearing, Huston said he may have a lead on an attorney to represent him, and noted that he was satisfied the judge gave him more time.
Huston also said he felt Raiders mischaracterized his actions, and said that he and Craig Stevens helped Kemble before he had any attorney. “I have no interest in being an attorney,” Huston said.
Huston also said he thought Raiders had tried to make it seem like he was “directing Ray.”
“Anyone who knows Ray knows how ridiculous that is,” Huston said. “No one can direct Ray. I never directed the case and was not acting as an attorney.”
Kemble has maintained in court papers that Cabot’s lawsuit is retaliatory in nature and that his repeated statements critical of Cabot are beyond the constraints of the agreement as they expose Cabot’s poor environmental record and are otherwise protected First Amendment speech.
For its part, Cabot claims in its lawsuit that Kemble and several lawyers engaged in frivolous litigation in suing them in an April 2017 federal lawsuit which was later dismissed.
“They filed the lawsuit with the purpose of harassing Cabot and extorting money from Cabot,” Barrette told Legg during a December 2017 hearing.
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.”
Cabot spokesman George Stark said Monday that the court efforts were “to get to the money behind these paid activists and less about Ray Kemble, Bill Huston, and Julanne Skinner. The idea this case is Cabot versus three landowners is a false narrative.”
Kemble’s friend and power of attorney Craig Stevens sat for a deposition in Virginia, according to court documents.
“There are thousands of dollars flowing to them,” Stark said.
Stark said the activists file frivolous lawsuits and abuse the legal system. “But when they have their day in court, they hide and do everything they can to avoid the proceeding the average person must adhere to. They traffic in the court of public opinion but in a court of law, they do everything they can to dodge us.”