Superior Court orders hearing on sealed shale settlement

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A state appellate court ordered a Washington County court today to consider hearing arguments to unseal records in a settlement of a case in which a Washington County family claimed it was harmed by nearby gas drilling.

Stephanie and Chris Hallowich sued Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners, claiming that gas drilling operations harmed their health and property value.

The parties formalized a settlement in August 2011 during a private meeting in Judge Paul Pozonsky's chambers, after which the case file was sealed.

A reporter from the Post-Gazette objected to the closed-door proceeding and the paper filed a petition a week later to intervene in the case and to unseal the record. The Washington Observer-Reporter filed a similar request and the judge denied those requests in February.

Superior Court Judges Judith Olson, Paula Ott and James Fitzgerald wrote in the decision issued today that Judge Pozonsky erred in denying the papers' requests to intervene in the case and argue that case file should be unsealed.

Judge Pozonsky unexpectedly retired this summer, about a month after the president judge stripped him of his ability to handle criminal cases.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com


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