Beware The Allure Of Shale ‘Mailbox Money’

Originally published at EagleFordForum and GoHaynesvilleShale
Attorney Spotlight: Ben Elmore
By K. Daniel Glover

If a land man calls with an offer of “mailbox money” for the mineral rights on your property, read closely before signing on the dotted line. If you don’t, oil and gas lawyer Ben Elmore said the words above it may come back to haunt you.

Mailbox money is a slang term of the shale era. “You wake up one day and you get a call from a land man” promising $1,000 an acre and a 20 percent royalty on oil and gas production from your property, said Elmore, an attorney in the industry for 13 years who now works at WattBeckworth in Houston. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, and every month a check will come.”

A few years ago in Texas, he said, the average mineral owner was a 65-year-old widow – the kind of people who could use the money. But the fine print they didn’t read in their royalty deals back then may be making them miserable now.

“It’s a bad attitude to have,” Elmore said of people who sign for quick cash. “Mineral owners need to educate themselves about what they own. They need to educate themselves about the industry and how it works.”

Elmore, whose clients include both landowners and oil and gas companies, said understanding the law in Texas before signing is even more important now because the government is making it harder to bring lawsuits after the fact.

“They are streamlining the litigation process in the oil and gas context much like they have in the tort context,” he said, and mineral owners are feeling the brunt of it.



A Law Practice Built On ‘All Things Marcellus’

Originally published at GoMarcellusShale
By K. Daniel Glover

For Pennsylvania attorney Douglas Clark, the Marcellus Shale is a family matter. His first clients in the oil and gas space were his in-laws and their neighbors in Wayne County, and he has built an entire business around representing rural landowners in the Keystone State who remind him of his parents and grandparents.

“It’s been a gift to represent them,” Clark told GoMarcellusShale in a telephone interview. “It’s unbelievably rewarding to work with these people and get them the benefits” of living on resource-rich land.

Clark, who also hosts the radio program “All Things Marcellus” on WTRW in Scranton, Pa., never planned to get into the shale legal business. After earning his law degree from the University of Akron in Ohio, he moved to northeastern Pennsylvania to practice civil defense law. Clark later worked for the Lackawanna County Public Defenders Office and then started his own firm, taking on a mix of cases.

But after representing his in-laws and neighbors for several months in 2007-2008, Clark sensed landowners were at a disadvantage in negotiating with oil and gas companies. Some landowners were signing leases for bonuses of $100 an acre, while others were getting as much as $750. This was before the boom ultimately drove the market price to $5,750 bonuses and royalties of 20-plus percent.

Clark believed he could help. He bought advertising space in the local PennySaver publication and was off to the shale leasing races. “It just took off,” he said of landowners lining up for expert advice.

Years later, Clark is still going strong as a solo attorney for landowners. He tackles well-site, storage and pipeline agreements across the state. Lately he is handling more royalty payments and estate plans. The latter includes issues such as transferring property and ensuring that gas companies calculate royalties appropriately.


Your Friendly Neighborhood Oil And Gas Lawyer

Originally published at EagleFordForum and GoHaynesvilleShale
By K. Daniel Glover

Years ago in Burleson, Texas, a company eager to extract natural gas from the Barnett Shale entered negotiations with property owners who were just as eager to profit from the minerals beneath their suburban development.

For a while, the talks favored the neighborhood association. The company agreed in principle to pay bonuses of $27,200 an acre and royalties of 25.25 percent. But with more than 1,000 owners in the neighborhood association, progress was slow. The recession hit in October 2008, and in one day, the company dropped its offer to $5,000 an acre and 25 percent royalties.

The neighbors cried foul, but the company insisted that no firm deal had been signed. The dispute wasn’t settled for 1 1/2 years.

The case sticks in the mind of Fort Worth attorney Eric Camp because such “rooftop leasing” is becoming more common as shale plays like Eagle Ford and Haynesville emerge across America. Oil and gas operators learned to protect their interests, Camp said, but property owners don’t tend to follow legal news like corporate lawyers. As a result, property owners are more likely to be burned now.

“Nothing pains me more than watching groups in other parts of the country making the same mistakes,” Camp said.

Yet cases like the one involving the “Central Burleson Holdouts” are precisely why Camp chose oil and gas as his legal specialty. “It’s what I’m passionate about, what I enjoy, and so it’s easier to get motivated to go to work every day,” he said.

Camp chose the field after clerking for an East Texas law firm while at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “After that first summer, I fell in love with the business and the clients,” he said. “… You’d have no idea they were millionaires – just really hard workers and entrepreneurial.”


Take That Trash Off My Wall!

Published in The Crime Report, Center on Media Crime and Justice
By K. Daniel Glover

David Oliver reached his social media breaking point last month.

As chief of the Brimfield, Ohio police department, Oliver is used to vulgar tirades against the police, especially from criminals and the company they keep. But he won’t tolerate such nastiness on the department’s Facebook page.

Hosting the page hasn’t presented many problems for Oliver in the year since it has been online. The department has deleted only three posts and banned four users. But two of the department’s posts on Jan. 23, one of them being a picture from a methamphetamine lab, triggered a flurry of foul language and personal attacks against officers.

Oliver deleted the offending content and then laid down the social media law.

“This is a police department [Facebook] page,” he wrote. “I am the chief here, which means I take responsibility for the entire content. … If you get offended because a ‘friend’ gets arrested, tough luck. Get new friends. Whatever you do, it will not involve bashing officers, me or the community on this page. It will not involve incoherent swearing.”

Oliver’s post earned nearly 300 “likes” and sparked 70 comments, far more engagement than usual on the page.

Most people cheered him for taking a hard line. But the status update also revealed a key concern facing police departments across America as they get more social: how to balance the community benefits of public interaction with the risks of creating an open, public forum.

“That’s the biggest challenge that most of us face,” said Sgt. Steve Hauck, who administers the social media channels for Utica, N.Y., police department. “There’s a fine line between free speech and vulgarity and what’s offensive. It’s always a judgment thing.”

Facebook Patrol: The Social Police Beat

Excerpt from The Crime Report, Center on Media, Crime and Justice
By K. Daniel Glover

For 24 hours in early April, residents of Dunwoody, Ga., got a call-by-call glimpse of what it’s like to patrol the Atlanta suburb. Police in the city, which is home to about 46,000 people at night and 100,000 each workday, reported calls on Twitter as they happened.

From the first call of the day (a traffic stop that resulted in a verbal warning) to the 111th call at 6 a.m. the next morning (a report of a suspicious person who was gone when police arrived), the department kept its citizens in the loop on every move officers made. Domestic disputes, child neglect, burglaries, gunshots, drugs, fights, car accidents, road hazards, noise complaints, 911 miscalls, false alarms — you name it, the police broadcast it in as close to real time as possible.

“We’re still trying to really connect with our community and to let people know what we do, and also to provide some transparency in our efforts,” Chief Billy Grogan said of Dunwoody, which was incorporated in 2008. “This is just another way to really try to reach our community.”

Dunwoody is not alone. Dozens of police departments across the country — and around the world — are moving into the social media space, both to connect with citizens and to search for criminals. These community leaders even have a conference geared toward them, Social Media in Law Enforcement, which was held last week in Chicago.

(Read the article)

Editor’s note: This article also was published at the blog Justice 2.0, a project that the author produced as part of his John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Fellowship to the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Judging Social: Modern Media In Court

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

The man who represents himself in court may well have a fool for a client, but the Indiana Supreme Court is doing its part to make sure that man is a little less foolish.

Over the past few years, the court has been producing Internet videos aimed at educating people who choose to represent themselves. The series includes introductory lessons, specific tips for various stages of the legal process and topical videos on subjects like children and divorce. Some of the clips have more than 10,000 views each.

Online videos like those on the Indiana high court’s YouTube channel are just one technique that courts — and some judges — are using to expand their communications horizons. As more people go to social media for information, the judicial branch is getting social to reach them.

“There’s widespread interest in the topic in the court community,” said Chris Davey, the public information director for Ohio’s Supreme Court. He has been spearheading research of social media in the courts for the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. “Almost every day there are courts that are starting to use some form of social media.”

Even the International Criminal Court has a Twitter account and YouTube channel.

The 21st-century court reporter
The Indiana Supreme Court is one of several U.S. courts on Twitter, a move that PIO Kathryn Dolan credits to changing media realities — and to her boss Chief Justice Randall Shepherd, whom she calls “a newspaperman at heart.”

“What we’re seeing nationally and globally is obviously a shift in how people consume news,” Dolan said. “They decide what they want to hear and learn about and go directly to the source in many cases. And we felt that it was important to provide that information and that means for them to gather that information directly from us.”

Trial By Twitter: Real-time Court Coverage

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

Helen Ubinas was a lone voice tweeting in a media wilderness in January 2010. The Harford Courant columnist was the only journalist reporting in real time via Twitter during jury selection of a high-profile murder trial — an experiment she began by happenstance when the reactions of potential jurors intrigued her.

“Mostly I thought I was ‘talking’ to myself, just jotting down impressions of the young woman who broke down crying when she saw Hayes, the high-stakes lawyering taking place, etc.,” Ubinas said in an email interview. “But suddenly people started to follow me — and they began sending messages. I realized quickly that people were very interested in the case, in the judicial system. They wanted every single detail.”

By the time the jury found Steven Hayes guilty of killing three people in Cheshire, Conn., Ubinas was one of a half-dozen reporters covering the case live in news blurbs and sound bites of 140 characters or less. Their work amassed such a following that Hayes’ defense team blamed Twitter for creating a “circus atmosphere,” and the second defendant in the murder case, Joshua Komisarjevsky, later tried to keep tweeters out of the courtroom.

The reporter’s notebook online
The Cheshire murder trials highlight the increasing significance of Twitter both as a news tool in general and as a great gadget for covering trials in particular. Journalists can report dramatic testimony, legal maneuverings and more as soon as they happen, and they can do it in more detail than traditional media allow.

High-profile trials such as the Cheshire case and the federal corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., attract the most attention. But some local court reporters have made Twitter part of their daily routines.

The value of live-tweeting trials quickly becomes apparent to journalists who try it. They hear from crime-news junkies, lawyers involved in trials and especially family members of crime victims. “Family members who could not be in court thanked me for making it possible for them to ‘be there,'” Ubinas said of both the Hayes trial and another one she tweeted more recently.

The Impeached Former Judge

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

To voters in Florida’s 23rd District, Democrat Alcee Hastings is simply their representative in the House. They first elected him by 59 percent of the vote in 1992 and subsequently have returned him to Congress in majorities ranging from 73 percent to 100 percent. He was just re-elected to an eighth term without opposition.

But to those outside Florida’s 23rd who’ve heard of him, and especially to bloggers, Hastings is “the only member of Congress ever to have been impeached and removed from office as a federal judge,” to quote from the “Almanac of American Politics.”

The “Almanac” goes on to say this about his past: “Hastings was charged with conspiring with a friend to take a $150,000 bribe and give two convicted swindlers light sentences. A Miami jury acquitted Hastings in 1983, but the friend was convicted. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called for impeachment in 1987 and referred the case to Congress. Hastings was impeached by the House by a vote of 413-3 and convicted by the Senate, 69-26.”

Hastings’ history as a judge is significant now because he is being considered for the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. Jane Harman of California is the ranking Democrat on that panel, but in a departure from tradition, may not be automatically elevated to the committee’s top post in January.

That’s because Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected House Speaker for the new, majority-Democratic Congress, reportedly is not fond of Harman, and is not eager to elevate her fellow Californian to the Intelligence chairmanship. Despite his impeachment and removal from the judiciary, Hastings has the important backing of the Congressional Black Caucus for his promotion.

The prospect of Hastings becoming chairman has prompted plenty of complaints in the blogosphere, even among Democrats. Stephen Kaus proclaimed Hastings “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” at The Huffington Post, and Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker did some thorough background reporting on the Hastings bribery case (go here, here and here).


The Master Of Eminent Domain

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

On June 22, the Pacific Legal Foundation entered the blogosphere. The launch of the group’s blog, PLF on Eminent Domain, was the perfect end to a year marked by keen public interest in a legal doctrine that guarantees governments the right to “take” private property for public use.

The year started June 23, 2005, when the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in Kelo v. New London. The case pitted the city of New London, Conn., against homeowner Susette Kelo and her neighbors. The city used the power of eminent domain to condemn and then buy their properties in order to redevelop them, and the Supreme Court concluded that the seizure was constitutional.

The decision triggered a wave of public outrage that manifested itself in opinion polls, media commentary, legal analysis, and online rants.

Kelo has been in the news again lately, as President Bush in June signed an executive order on eminent domain. Critics of the ruling also marked its anniversary with protests and continue to ponder their next steps to protect their private property. Blogs are part of that equation.

It took the Kelo decision to really get bloggers engaged on the issue. Eminent Domain Watch was created before then, but founder Alan Krigman said he never found either other blogs or conventional Web sites dedicated to eminent domain until Kelo.

“We started [in 2004] at the time that the Michigan Supreme Court reversed itself on the Poletown decision,” Krigman said. “It was my intuition that this would start the dominoes falling. Had Kelo not been heard by the [Supreme Court], I believe the Michigan reversal would have triggered at least some action.”


The Courtship Of The Blogosphere

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Fifteen years ago, just a few months into my first full-time job as a reporter, I covered a speech by Iran-Contra figure Robert McFarlane. It was a defining moment in my career.

I say that not because of the speech, which was both predictable and unspectacular, or because of the story I wrote, which was ordinary and uninspiring. I say it because of what happened afterward: One of my journalistic brethren approached the disgraced national security adviser to former President Ronald Reagan and requested an autograph.

I was floored. How could a supposedly objective journalist solicit the autograph of a controversial news subject, especially before finishing his story? How objective could his story possibly be if he were so enthralled as to publicly request a favor from his source?

I felt the same way last week when reading the accounts of conservative bloggers handpicked by the Republican Party to cover the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito from Washington. The communications experts in the party took to new heights the courtship of the blogosphere that they began last fall — and they found a most receptive audience.