|COMMENTARY: Roane County Verdict Deserves Respect|
By Jim Abcouwer
- Abcouwer owns and operates oil and gas companies in Texas and West Virginia
Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy, should do our industry a favor and stop describing our judicial branch as a "legal lottery, out of control," applying a "Robin Hood style of justice against companies."
He should stop saying Chesapeake is a "victim" and that things here must "improve" or his dollars will go elsewhere.
And he should stop demanding a more "sympathetic forum" because Chesapeake has invested in the state and donated to charities.
The jury members in Spencer deserve our respect and our thanks.
Impugning them and the presiding judge is no way to worm his way into the hearts of West Virginians.
The trial in Spencer lasted weeks, and much evidence was considered.
If McClendon believes an injustice was done there, he should get better attorneys and file an appeal.
We have a system that now challenges the company to show that the jury was practicing the conspiracy he is implying, or that the judge was unfairly sympathetic to the mineral owners, as he also implies.
He should just file the appeal and quit publicly maligning good people doing their duty.
I've been on four juries, and I participated as a witness in this trial in Roane County.
My experiences lead me to believe that people on juries take their responsibilities seriously and either leave their prejudices outside or disqualify themselves because of them.
They're not there giving up weeks of their time to further some vendetta against his company or our industry - or to steal from the rich to give to the poor.
Maybe what McClendon is trying to do now is lobby for new legislation.
Reducing contract ambiguity is a noble cause.
But alas, he has admitted that he was operating with 100-year-old contracts in place, and what had been understood by the contract parties had long since changed dramatically.
Why didn't he simply meet with those counter-parties and update language to eliminate this glaring liability?
He knows the rule of law that says when there is a contract ambiguity, it will be resolved in favor of the party that did not write the contract (all other things being equal). He has admitted the contracts are old and ambiguous.
His company (or one of its precursors) wrote the contracts. The problem then is one the company created - and could have fixed.
We want McClendon to hire, invest and give to charity in West Virginia. But the company should not expect that investment to create a judicial system "sympathetic" to Chesapeake or to the oil and gas business in general.
It should take a higher road. It's not about sympathy. It's about the law, contractual obligations, and running a business right.
Those are the actions that build goodwill.
The oil and gas industry does not expect sympathy in lieu of justice.