Frustrations on the part of the judge overseeing the lawsuit filed almost four years ago against a local man by Cabot Oil & Gas erupted in court last week during another – in a seemingly endless series – of hearings.
Attorneys named in the Cabot lawsuit for filing what the company claims was a frivolous lawsuit on the part of Dimock resident Ray Kemble have repeatedly refused to produce detailed personal financial information despite repeated orders from President Judge Jason Legg. They even argued a losing appeal to the state Superior Court, which shot down their arguments in a written opinion agreeing with Legg.
Legg made it clear Thursday he is quickly losing patience.
“Four years we’ve been spinning our wheels on this nonsense,” Legg said. “The court is extremely frustrated, to put it politely.” At one point, the judge called the slow pace of pre-trial proceedings in the case “a waste of court resources.”
The attorneys accused of filing the frivolous litigation – who no longer represent Kemble – object to producing the information as they say it will violate their clients’ privacy rights. Their spouses have even gone as far as to hire their own lawyer to fight the order. But the state Superior Court has, in its written opinion, said they must provide the records.
In September, Legg ordered the defendants to pay $3,160 to compensate Cabot for money they spent fighting their failure to comply with discovery orders – where attorneys from each side normally voluntarily exchange information in the case in preparation for trial.
“I entered an Order and it went to the Superior Court and it was affirmed. That means you follow the order,” Legg told attorney Kevin Hayes.
Hayes appeared in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in Montrose Thursday to represent attorneys from the Speer Law Firm of Kansas City, Missouri, and Fellerman & Ciarimboli of Kingston with attorney Jessica M. Keough representing the attorneys’ spouses.
Hayes and Keough continue to maintain that releasing their clients’ personal financial information to Cabot will violate their privacy rights. Cabot seeks their financial information as it seeks punitive as well as compensatory damages.
In 2017 Cabot sued Kemble, once a focus of the national anti-fracking movement, for violating a 2012 agreement not to bad mouth the company in exchange for a $187,000 check settling an earlier lawsuit Kemble had filed against them for allegedly polluting his property.
Cabot also sued the law firms for filing federal lawsuits, seeking additional monetary compensation over issues they knew the courts had already decided in the earlier lawsuit.
Kemble later claimed in a deposition that the lawyers acted without his knowledge.
The years have taken their toll in other ways. Charles Speer, head of the Speer Law Firm, one of the defendants, died last month at the age of 67. Several other attorneys have been hired and then dismissed by Kemble.
The case continues to drag on.
Calling their actions “willful” and describing them as creating “a disturbing history of discovery violations,” Legg has plainly placed the blame for delays in the case on the lawyers representing the law firms.
According to the official record of the case maintained by the county prothonotary’s office, the docket shows over 110 motions, legal briefs and memoranda of law racked up by lawyers on both sides thus far. Legg has issued at least 85 formal orders. But the court has yet to establish a trial date or even preside over the completion of the process of discovery.
Cabot attorney Amy L. Barrette told Legg that even when she receives discovery materials from Hayes they’re only partial and don’t really comply with the spirit of the rule.
Legg’s frustrations with Hayes apparently extended beyond just discovery orders. The judge questioned Hayes as to why it took until this point in the litigation for him to suddenly notice that one of the law firms named as a defendant didn’t actually exist.
“I wasn’t aware that it wasn’t a legal entity until it was brought up,” Hayes told Legg, who responded to Hayes’ defense with a skeptical facial expression.
Listed in the lawsuit as “Fellerman & Ciarimboli P.C.” the law firm is actually “Fellerman & Ciarimboli L.L.P.” a legal distinction the lawyers’ failure to notice sooner did not make Legg any happier.
“Why did this have to come before the court? And why isn’t this sanctionable?” Legg inquired.
“They’re trying to take my client’s china and their assets,” Hayes said.
The case was again continued.