Lawyer Wants Cut From Chesapeake Settlement

     FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas attorney is demanding one-third of the legal fees from a $51 million natural gas royalty settlement between Chesapeake Energy and 13,000 Texas landowners, claiming he developed the “blueprint for victory” while co-counsel got the public “recognition and spotlight.”
     Jim Ward and Wardlaw Services sued Dan McDonald and Fort Worth-based law firms McDonald Law Firm and Circelli, Walter & Young in Tarrant County Court on Friday.
     Chesapeake and its partner, France-based Total S.A., announced in May that they had settled the hundreds of lawsuits filed by landowners over the North Texas Barnett Shale formation, mostly in Tarrant and Johnson counties.
     The defendant law firms said last week they had obtained written approval from the required 90 percent of their clients by the July 11 deadline.
     Chesapeake agreed to pay $29.4 million in cash and $10 million through a loan payable in 2019. Total agreed to pay $13.1 million in cash.
     Ward claims the settlement would not have happened without his “indispensable contribution” as co-counsel. A database of “critical evidence” already existed when McDonald was soliciting clients, Ward says in the complaint.
     “Ward, together with his team of consultants and experts, developed and possessed the blueprint for victory,” the 16-page complaint states. “Proving any one royalty owner’s case would be difficult and time-consuming on its own. Moreover, in the case of thousands of plaintiffs, it would be cost-prohibitive, as many plaintiffs only stood to gain a few hundred dollars if they prevailed against Chesapeake. Ward, an attorney with significant oil and gas experience, spent two years piecing together documents, court records, and data which effectively proved the case for all plaintiffs, not just certain plaintiffs.”
     Ward says that when he asked McDonald for an accounting of the settlement, McDonald refused. He claims McDonald took the position that “at most, the agreement only pertained to approximately 6 (of the more than 13,000) plaintiffs.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     McDonald Law Firm did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Sunday evening.
     Ward seeks a restraining order and injunction, as he expects the settlement money to be wired to a trust account held by Circelli Walter on Monday.
     He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, fraud, tortious interference, money had and received, reformation and theft.
     He is represented by Philip Russ in Amarillo and Bryan N.B. King with Fellers Snider in Oklahoma City.

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