Beaver County district judge recuses in cases against suspended Aliquippa assistant police chief

An Aliquippa district judge recused herself Tuesday from two criminal cases against an Aliquippa assistant police chief, delaying the preliminary hearings that were scheduled to begin in the Beaver County Courthouse.


Immunity Cannot be Unilaterally Revoked by the Attorney General




A Beaver County Judge ruled that the Attorney General cannot unilaterally revoke an immunity agreement siding with the defense attorney, Steven Townsend.

Read the Opinion

The immunity agreement reached with the Attorney General’s Office was the point of contention in a motion filed by Mr. Ochs.  Ochs alleges that he never breached the immunity agreement but the AG’s office unilaterally revoked the agreement and did so without reservation.  The Court agreed with Ochs and held that the government can’t do as they wish on a “whim” or without oversight.  The court also denied the AG’s request to have this matter sent back to the presiding grand jury judge.


Natural gas royalties lawsuit hinges on transaction date


A class-action lawsuit over natural gas royalties hinges on the question of when the company sold the gas, an industry expert said Friday.

“The issue of when title passes will likely be the most important aspect of this trial,” said Steven Townsend of ShaleAdvice LLC.

Nine Greene County property owners claim in the lawsuit that Energy Corporation of America improperly charged them for transmission and marketing costs when it sold the gas extracted from their properties to its marketing affiliate, Eastern Marketing Corp.

The company contends it paid royalties without deductions on what Eastern Marketing paid it, which was the price at which Eastern Marketing sold the gas to third parties minus the transport and marketing costs. Consequently, Energy Corp. did not charge the owners any transport or marketing costs.

Robert Sanders, one of the attorneys for the property owners, declined to comment. Lawyers for the company could not be reached.

The amount in dispute is about $354,000 in transport costs and $891,000 in marketing fees on gas sold between 2006 and 2012, according to court documents.

The property owners sued the company in November 2010. Their case goes before a federal jury Monday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell presiding.

“The jury, as it does in most civil cases, needs to follow the money,” Townsend said.

If the company pays the 12.5 percent royalties on one price and then moves and markets the gas at a higher price, the property owners should not be charged, he said.

“The royalty owner should be getting the benefit of the higher sale price of the gas since they are paying for the transportation and marketing fees that raise the price,” Townsend said.

Pennsylvania has a law requiring gas royalties to be at least 12.5 percent, but beyond that, the issue is controlled by the leases both sides signed, said Ross Pifer, a Penn State law professor and director of the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center.

“At its core, it is a contract matter,” he said.

The state Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the industry practice of using the “net-back method” of calculating royalties, which pays a royalty based on 12.5 percent of the sale price minus 12.5 percent of the cost of bringing the gas to market.

With the exception of the minimum royalty required by state law, the property owner and the company could agree on any cost-sharing plan by spelling it out in the lease.

Traditionally, the companies pay all the costs of getting the gas out of the ground and the owners pay a share of getting the gas to the buyer.

Other disputes over those costs have included companies trying to deduct management fees and other indirect costs from royalties, he said.

While the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that companies cannot deduct any post-production cost that’s not spelled out in the lease, Pennsylvania does not have a similar ruling, he said.

Most leases in Pennsylvania don’t include those details, he said.

“For the most part, they are very imprecise,” Pifer said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or




Gov. Wolf signs order banning new gas drilling leases on Pennsylvania public lands

Gov. Tom Wolf to reinstate moratorium on drilling in parks, forests. Banning Drilling


HARRISBURG (AP) — Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Gov. Tom Wolf today signed an order Thursday banning new drilling leases on public land, ending a short-lived effort by his Republican predecessor to expand the extraction of natural gas from rock buried deep beneath state parks and forests.


The new Democratic governor signed the executive order before a small group of people who braved frigid temperatures to witness the event at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Rush State Park. He said the moratorium was rooted in a “deep-seated and profound respect” for state parks.


“This is a beautiful state and this is one way we can promote that and protect it,” he said.


Wolf, who also campaigned on a pledge to impose a 5 percent extraction tax on natural gas drilling to raise money for public schools and other programs, reiterated that he wants the gas industry to thrive in the state but with appropriate environmental safeguards.


“I absolutely want to do natural gas,” he said. “If we do it right, we can create really good jobs and a great industry 


Wolf’s order supersedes an order that GOP Gov. Tom Corbett signed in May and reinstated the ban that Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell instituted in 2010.


Environmentalists praised the action, saying it reflects Wolf’s support for strong environmental regulation.


“The governor has wisely chosen to protect the people of Pennsylvania over the profits of drillers,” said John Norbeck, CEO of Harrisburg-based PennFuture.


The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, sharply criticized the move.


“This deeply misguided and purely political action to unnecessarily ban the safe and tightly-regulated development of natural gas from beneath taxpayer-owned lands flies in the face of common sense,” said the coalition’s president, Dave Spigelmyer.


Corbett’s order authorized state officials to negotiate new leases for gas extraction through horizontal wells drilled from adjacent, privately owned land or areas previously leased for drilling in state forests.


It also barred drilling-related construction that disturbs the surface of public lands, but that didn’t quell criticism from groups concerned about the impact.


The new leases, which Corbett hoped would generate tens of millions of dollars to help balance the state budget, were ultimately put on hold in a deal with the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation pending the resolution of the foundation’s 2012 lawsuit seeking to block them.


The state Commonwealth Court sided with the Corbett administration in a decision this month. It upheld the government’s right to lease more public lands for natural gas and oil drilling, and the diversion of rent and royalty payments from a land conservation fund to other programs.


Since the first leases for drilling on the Marcellus Shale formation were sold in 2008, hundreds of millions of dollars of that revenue has been tapped to shore up the state’s operating budgets under Corbett and Rendell.


John Childe Jr., the foundation’s lawyer, said the group is “very grateful” for Wolf’s expected action.


The foundation will continue to press an appeal on its argument that the leasing violates a state constitutional provision that says public natural resources are “the common property of all the people including generations yet to come” and that the state’s role is to conserve and maintain them, Childe said.


“We need to get some clarity on the meaning of the public trust,” he said.


Associated Press writer Sean Carlin in Philadelphia contributed to this story.

Charges Withdrawn – Transfer of a Firearm

 Transfer of a FirearmTransfer Firearm

My client was charged with a felon and a misdemeanor after he “legally” attempted to transfer and purchase a firearm. Charges Withdrawn.

The case began in September of 2014 and finally came to an end in January 2015. After 4 appearances before the Magisterial District Judge, the District Attorney’s Office agreed that the case should be withdrawn.

The client had a Misdemeanor 1 conviction for a DUI back in 2006, which carries a possible penalty of more than one year of incarceration.  However, we were able to successfully resolve this case with a complete withdrawal of the charges.

Although the case took several months and court appearances, it demonstrates that you should rarely waive your right to a Preliminary Hearing.  The District Attorney kept advising the client and me that the best thing for him to do would be to waive his right to the hearing and they would allow him to plead guilty to the misdemeanor for probation.

This is a perfect example why I don’t waive Preliminary Hearings.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopts stricter standards for lawyers investing money for clients

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Lawyers who invest money for clients soon will be under tighter scrutiny and held to stricter standards through rules the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Tuesday.


“The integrity of our legal system depends a great deal on the professionalism and accountability of attorneys,” Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in a statement the court released.


Castille said the rules “serve as a reminder that attorneys are obligated to live up to the trust people put in them by working diligently and honestly, or face serious consequences.”


The rules, which take effect in 60 days, raise the level of responsibility when attorneys invest client funds. According to the court, the changes were prompted by high-profile incidents across the state, including cases in which clients lost millions of dollars invested by their attorneys. The court did not provide examples.


The rule changes include a Rule of Professional Conduct addition that requires lawyers to be licensed before brokering, selling or offering to place an investment for a client. Such transactions are prohibited if an attorney has any disqualifying financial interests.


Financial records will be more accessible to attorney disciplinary bodies that examine alleged misappropriation of trust accounts, and investigative procedures will be streamlined.


The amended rules are intended to lead to prompt disengagement from legal practice by lawyers who are suspended or disbarred for stealing or mishandling money.


A working group of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court helped create the rules, the court said.


Rules exist for the suspension or disbarment of attorneys who misappropriate client funds. But many clients do not fully recover their losses, the court noted. Victims can file claims through the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security for reimbursable losses from dishonest attorneys. Payouts are capped at $100,000.


Pennsylvania has more than 65,000 licensed attorneys. Fewer than 1 percent are involved in misconduct investment claims, the court said.


Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or


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Firearm Reciprocity


Do you know where you have firearm reciprocity?

Are there exceptions to carrying a firearm without a Pennsylvania License to Carry?
A:       License to Carry Firearms is issued to carry a firearm concealed on one’s person or in a vehicle within this Commonwealth. Any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person except in his place of abode or fixed place of business without a valid and lawfully issued license commits a felony of the third degree. A person who is otherwise eligible to possess a valid license under this chapter but carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license and has not committed any other criminal violation commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.

Click Here to see more.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106 Firearms not to be Carried Without a License
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license under this chapter commits a felony of the third degree.
(2) A person who is otherwise eligible to possess a valid license under this chapter but carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of 6
abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license and has not committed any other criminal violation commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.
(b) Exceptions.–The provisions of subsection (a) shall not apply to:
(11) Any person while carrying a firearm in any vehicle, which person possesses a valid and lawfully issued license for that firearm which has been issued under the laws of the United States or any other state.
(15) Any person who possesses a valid and lawfully issued license or permit to carry a firearm which has been issued under the laws of another state, regardless of whether a reciprocity agreement exists between the Commonwealth and the state under section 6109(k), provided:
(i) The state provides a reciprocal privilege for individuals licensed to carry firearms under section 6109.
(ii) The Attorney General has determined that the firearm laws of the state are similar to the firearm laws of this Commonwealth.
Note: There is debate about having to unload when you exit the vehicle to go into a motel room or other place you have rented or a family member or friend’s personal property to spend the night.

DUI and Firearms. You better not try and buy a firearm after a DUI.

Have a DUI and try to buy a gun in PA? You might get in even more trouble

2nd Amendment


You cannot legally purchase a firearm in Pennsylvania if…

  • You have been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • You are under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • You are a fugitive
  • You are an “unlawful user of” or addicted to controlled substance
  • You have been found mentally defective or committed to a mental institution
  • You are an illegal alien or admitted to the U.S. under a non-immigrant status
  • You have been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
  • You have renounced your U.S. citizenship
  • You have a court order that restrained you from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner
  • You have been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

Release of Lease – Are you entitlted to a release?

Obtaining a Release of Lease from the oil and gas industry has been a very tedious process.

Surrender of Lease

If you need advice, please give us a call to discuss your particular circumstances.


What happens if you believe that your lease is either expired or terminated.  Whether you believe that no production has occurred, haven’t been paid your upfront bonus or delay rentals, or any number of other reasons you can now force the oil and gas company to take action.  The Governor is expected to sign legislation that will assist landowners

in obtaining a Release of Lease if the landowner initiates the process.

House Bill No. 401 was introduced in January 2013 and has had may opportunities to become law.  The last revisions were made on June 27, 2014 and has been passed by both the House and Senate.  The Bill is in on the Governor’s desk for signature.  We will keep you advised on the status of the proposed legislation, but for now click here for the




Section 3. Lessee duty to provide surrender document.
(a) General rule.–Not more than 30 days after the
termination, EXPIRATION or cancellation of an oil or natural gas
lease, the lessee shall deliver to the lessor, without cost to
the lessor, a surrender document in recordable form.


(d) Effect of no challenge.–A lessor who has served a
notice under subsection (a) and fails to receive a timely
challenge from the lessee under subsection (c) may record an
affidavit of termination, EXPIRATION or cancellation of an oil
or natural gas lease in the office of the recorder of deeds for
the county in which the land is situated.