Judge Requests Recusal

Morgantown Dominion Post
8 July 2011
By Brandy Brubaker

The judge assigned to hear Northeast Natural Energy’s case against the City of Morgantown has asked to be recused.

Monongalia County Circuit Judge Phil Gaujot said this week in a letter for removal that he and his wife are close friends with former Morgantown Mayor Bill Byrne and his wife as well as Ben and Jo Statler.

“Having recently learned of my assignment to the above-entitled action, and having considered the relationships I share with interested parties to this litigation, I am convinced that it would be improper for me to preside over this case,” Gaujot wrote in the letter. “ ... While Mayor Byrne is clearly an interested party to the action, it is my understanding that the Statlers may have an interest in the outcome of the litigation due to their relationship with one of the plaintiffs and/or its principals.”

West Virginia Trial Court Rules state that requests for recusal filed prior to a party to the case requesting disqualification can be reassigned within a multi-judge circuit without involvement of the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

As a result, Gaujot forwarded his request for recusal to Monongalia County Chief Judge Russell Clawges. Gaujot, Clawges and Judge Susan Tucker represent Monongalia County as circuit judges.

A representative of Clawges’ office said Thursday afternoon that they had not yet received a copy of the recusal request. The Dominion Post obtained the paperwork Thursday from the court file.

Last month, Morgantown city council approved a law that bans horizontal drilling and fracking within city limits and within one mile of the city, which includes work being done by Northeast Natural Energy at Morgantown Industrial Park. That park is across the Monongahela River from Morgantown.

Northeast Natural Energy promptly filed a civil lawsuit against the city, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the city from enforcing its new law. Land and mineral owner Enrout Properties LLC joined Northeast’s lawsuit. A hearing date has yet to be scheduled, according to court records.