Texas Judge Steps Aside in Gas Case He Used in Campaign

A Texas judge agreed to step aside in a gas-drilling case involving Range Resources Corp. (RRC) after a landowner suing the company complained the judge showed bias in the matter in his campaign materials.

Judge Trey Loftin sent fliers to voters saying he forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back down and cited news stories and comments by radio host Rush Limbaugh on the case between Range Resources and landowner Steven Lipsky. Lipsky says Range’s drilling resulted in contamination of his water well with methane and benzene.

Lipsky’s lawyers petitioned to disqualify Loftin from the case after Bloomberg News wrote about his campaign mailers.

“While I know that I have been a fair and impartial jurist, I am concerned that appearances in this case have become its own story,” Loftin wrote June 5 to his state administrative judge, Jeff Walker. “I agree that I should be recused and this case transferred for the appearance alone.”

Loftin lost the May 29 Republican primary for the 43rd District Court in Parker County to keep his state judgeship. He remains on the bench until January.

The campaign mailers “reveal a personal bias or prejudice against the Lipskys,” according to a May 31 filing by Lipsky’s lawyers.

Loftin may have violated the Texas code of judicial ethics, Lipsky’s lawyers said. Loftin, in his letter to Walker, said he didn’t violate those canons.

Range Decisions

The code prohibits judges from commenting on pending or possible cases “in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judge’s probable decision.”

Loftin ruled for Range three times in the dispute with Lipsky and Alisa Rich, a consultant he hired. Lipsky accused Range of contaminating his well water. Range, in a countersuit, said Rich and Lipsky conspired to defame the company by getting the Environmental Protection Agency to issue an order against the company, which prompted media coverage.

Range, Rich and Lipsky aren’t named in either of the two fliers provided to Bloomberg. The news stories and Limbaugh commentaries they cite are about that case.

The case in Texas state court is Lipsky v. Durant, 11-cv- 0798, 43rd District Court of Texas, Parker County (Weatherford, Texas).

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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