Judge Reprimands CELDF Lawyers for ‘Bad Faith’ Efforts to Ban Pa. Wastewater Well

A Pennsylvania federal judge on Friday sanctioned a pair of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) attorneys for their “bad faith” efforts to impose an injection well ban in Grant Township, Pa., based on an “implausible” legal theory and “frivolous” and “discredited arguments.”

As E&E News reported, United States District Court Judge Susan Baxter’s reprimand of CELDF executive director Thomas Lindsey and attorney Elizabeth Dunne was a “deep blow” to the extreme Pennsylvania-based group’s relentless and futile campaign to implement “Community Bill of Rights” measures throughout the U.S. The CELDF attorneys have been ordered to pay $52,000 in legal costs accrued by Pennsylvania General Energy Co. (PEG) during its fight against CELDF’s attempt to ban the company’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-permitted Class II injection well.

Judge Baxter also ruled that Linzey be referenced to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania “for such further proceedings as the Board may deem appropriate,” which means the CELDF leader could be facing further punishment.

Judge Baxter’s ruling did not mince words, stating,

“This Court has determined that Attorneys Linzey and Dunne have pursued certain claims and defenses in bad faith. Based upon prior CELDF litigation, each was on notice of the legal implausibility of the arguments previously advanced…”

“Despite their own prior litigation, CELDF and Attorney Linzey, in particular, continue to advance discredited arguments as a basis for CELDF’s ill-conceived and sponsored CBR, and in doing so have vexatiously multiplied the litigation of this matter.” (emphasis added)

As a bit of background, CELDF’s “local control” efforts in Grant Township and various other communities have not only been aimed at allowing local municipalities to ban fracking by pre-empting state and federal laws, but any other “corporate” activities deemed undesirable. CELDF has also campaigned to give lawyers the right to sue corporations on behalf of ecosystems. Both initiatives are unconstitutional and unenforceable.

But despite CELDF’s “local control” efforts being rejected at the ballot box countless times — including six consecutive times in Youngstown, Ohio — and overturned in court in the handful of instances they have been passed, CELDF has continued to push its extreme agenda with absolutely no regard for the significant legal and administrative costs to communities (including more than $187,000 in Youngstown) and waste of judicial resources that have resulted.

But Judge Baxter’s strongly-worded 25-page ruling essentially said “enough is enough.” Baxter noted that Linzey and Dunne — both veteran attorneys — were clearly aware that their continued efforts to litigate this matter had no legal basis, and that they instead were blatantly attempting to advance a political agenda.

Baxter’s opinion notes that under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, attorneys cannot file a motion with the intent to “harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation.” Baxter’s ruling makes it clear that the CELDF lawyers did just that,

“[A]s made clear by the pattern of CELDF-affiliated litigation (all of which has been led by Attorney Linzey) in the years leading to this action, foregoing sanctions in this instance would be inconsistent with the Court’s duty to ensure that lawyers who practice before it do so ethically and responsibly. An attorney ’s zealous advocacy for the protection of a client’s interests is certainly appropriate; however, the legitimate pursuit of justice imposes important obligations on counsel to ensure that the Court is not a mechanism of harassment or unbridled obstruction.

“The continued pursuit of frivolous claims and defenses, despite Linzey’s first-hand knowledge of their insufficiency, and the refusal to retract each upon reasonable request, substantially and inappropriately prolonged this litigation, and required the Court and PGE to expend significant time and resources eliminating these baseless claims. Accordingly, sanctions are imposed and justified in this instance.” (emphasis added)

CELDF’s desire to prolong litigation even when it knows it has no chance of winning is well documented.

For instance, the Santa Fe New Mexican has reported on how CELDF knew going into a similar battle in Mora County, N.M. that their proposed ordinance – the same one peddled to Grant Township, Youngstown, Lafayette, Colo., and others – was unconstitutional, and the organization wanted it to be challenged.

Linzey also recently told Rolling Stone, “Our constitutional structure is an archaic suicide pact” and he has said that his group doesn’t mind bankrupting a community – that may be “exactly what is needed” for its campaign to succeed.

“If a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.”

Youngstown is a testament as to how serious Linzey’s outlandish statement truly is.

Despite the more than $187,000 CELDF’s six-times failed campaigns have cost the Ohio city, the group pledged to continue putting its Youngstown measure up to vote “43 times” if necessary in Youngstown. And rather than taking a hint and finally exiting the Buckeye State after the Ohio Supreme Court rejected CELDF’s appeal of the Mahoning County Board of Elections’ vote not to allow a “Community Bill of Rights” measure to appear on the ballot in Youngstown for a seventh time, the group instead doubled down by announcing plans to launch a statewide initiative petition for two Ohio constitutional amendments.

If this leaves you wondering how CELDF can possibly afford such repeated failure, it is important to understand the group has cash to burn. As EID recently reported, its coffers swelled from $1.6 million in 2014 to $2.5 million in 2015, and it has spent almost a million dollars on lobbying and grassroots efforts, as a result of the more than $3.4 million the group has raised over the past few years. According to its latest tax filing, the organization has seen its fundraising increase by more than 73 percent since 2009. However, new reports indicate there may be millions more in dark money pouring into its coffers.

This considerable funding underscores why Friday’s federal court ruling is so significant. Despite its Cleveland Browns-esque winning percentage, CELDF’s swollen coffers have allowed it to continue to waste taxpayer’s money. It may very well be up to the courts to stop the madness.

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