Appalachian Basin

New York State Rep. Under Legal Fire Also Chased Anti-Fracking Cases

Former EID Marcellus campaign director Tom Shepstone recently posted some interesting research on his website about Sheldon Silver. It appears the Speaker of the New York General Assembly, whose arrest has been making headlines, was up to more than just collecting referral fees illegally—he was also helping to push for fracking lawsuits for his firm, Weitz and Luxenberg.

Shepstone pointed out a previous article from the New York Post called “Shelly’s $hale Game” that explains Silver and his firm’s actions in more detail. From that article (emphasis added):

As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leads the fight to block a type of natural-gas drilling in New York, his private law firm is in other states trying to drum up multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the practice, The Post has found.

The speaker’s massive Manhattan-based personal-injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, plans a pair of public forums this week in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to “listen to the concerns of the community, share information and discuss legal options” about the gas-exploration phenomenon known as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”…

Silver (D-Manhattan) — citing risks of water contamination by chemical byproducts from the process — has emerged as a leading foe to expanded natural-gas drilling, which proponents argue could improve New York’s energy independence and revive upstate’s long-stagnant economy.

Last month, former Gov. David Paterson extended an environmental review period after vetoing a six-month ban shepherded through the Assembly by Silver.

Drilling advocates, government watchdog groups and even some Democrats say Weitz & Luxenberg’s anti-drilling push, which follows a similar forum last month in Pennsylvania, raises questions about the powerful speaker’s independence on the high-stakes issue.

“You have the speaker highlighting the alleged danger of hydrofracturing at the same time the law firm that’s paying him is out looking for clients interested in suing over the issue,” said a prominent Democrat who has frequent contact with Silver.

Shepstone also notes that the firm was chasing after these lawsuits for at least the past five years—nearly the entire time of New York’s hiatus on development. Here’s the excerpt from a 2010 piece in Business Wire from Weitz and Luxenberg:

Weitz & Luxenberg Alerts Public to Potential Hazards of Hydraulic Fracturing
Controversial drilling process may be polluting residential drinking water

January 07, 2010 11:59 AM Eastern Standard Time

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Weitz & Luxenberg (www.weitzlux.com) would like American families to consider the following: Imagine you invested your life savings into a home — only to find that a controversial type of gas drilling operation called “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” is taking place near your neighborhood and could ultimately contaminate your drinking water, endanger your health, and depreciate the value of your property…

The attorneys in the Environmental and Toxic Torts unit at Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. would like for you to know that you have a right to live in a safe, clean, and uncontaminated environment. Together, we can protect that right.

“There’s a rush on to exploit favorable market conditions for natural gas,” observed Lem Srolovic, an attorney in the Environmental unit. “Unfortunately, gas companies and their well service providers appear all too often willing to place communities and the environment at risk. But those companies must conform to a standard of reasonable care for the communities in which they operate. Where gas extraction injures health or damages property, they should be held accountable,” Mr. Srolovic stated.

People who have been affected by hydraulic fracking may get a free legal review by visiting our website, www.weitzlux.com

Articles from an older Weitz and Luxemberg website still appear in searches on the updated site, and now state that the firm is no longer taking “fracking cases” and only has the links available for “informational purposes.” Interestingly though, it does appear the firm still takes related cases (and actively pursues them) under its Environmental Pollution tab, which lists things like water contamination and a settlement with “some of the country’s biggest oil companies.”

Whether the firm and Silver were taking referrals for these lawsuits and passing them off onto others, as Silver’s being charged with doing in other instances, has yet to be seen. Shepstone seems to think that’s a possibility, and that more corruption cases will be revealed in the near future, potentially even implicating Governor Cuomo.

EID has also pointed out the conflicts of interest in the peer review process for the studies used to justify the New York fracking ban, and the activists’ celebration of their “victory.”

 

 

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