BRISTOL, Va. (WUSA9/AP) - Virginia's inspector general said he's investigating whether an assistant attorney general improperly advised energy companies in a court fight with southwest Virginia landowners over natural gas royalties.
Michael Morehart tells the Bristol Herald Courier (http://bit.ly/13h483m) he has no timetable for completing the investigation.
A Democratic lawmaker asked the inspector general to investigate after a federal judge expressed shock over Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon's emails to attorneys for EQT Production Co. and CNX. In the emails, Pigeon seems to offer legal advice on how the lawyers should fight lawsuits seeking at least $28 million in natural gas royalties tied up in state-mandated escrow accounts.
Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's gubernatorial campaign has received more than $100,000 from CNX's parent company.
WVIR in Charlottesville, Va. obtained a statement from the attorney general which read:
"We're glad the Inspector General's Office has been looking into this case because they're going to find that our office acted appropriately. We've been cooperating with the IG at every step of the way. One of the man functions of the attorney general's office is to defend Virginia statutes from legal challenges and that's exactly what we we've done in that case."
On Tuesday, Cuccinelli's challenger in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Terry McAuliffe, also released a statement:
"News today that the Inspector General is investigating Ken Cuccinelli for his role in helping out-of-state energy companies against Virginia landowners is confirmation of a disturbing trend in the Attorney General's office. Whether it is Bobby Thompson, Jonnie Williams or out-of-state energy companies, Ken Cuccinelli has led one of the most conflicted and scandal plagued Attorney General's offices in recent memory. A federal judge already said that she was "shocked" at the conduct of the Attorney General's office in this case.
"While this investigation is ongoing, the Attorney General should immediately recuse himself and his office from all matters involving the dispute between energy companies and landowners as well as all matters before the Oil and Gas Board. It is completely inappropriate that Cuccinelli continues his role in the case despite being under investigation for his conduct.
"Southwest Virginia landowners deserve to be paid what they are owed."