Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is fighting back against critics who claim that his office was too cozy with an energy company in a fierce battle with Southwest Virginia landowners over royalties in the mining of gas from their property.
In an extensive interview with NBC12 on the topic, Cuccinelli (who previously refused questions regarding the matter) said that his office did what it was supposed to and an ongoing investigation into the matter by the State Inspector General will confirm they did nothing wrong.
"Our job is to defend Virginia statutes and that is what we came in to do," Cuccinelli said.
The Attorney General claims that his office only became involved when the pending lawsuit presented a challenge to the the Virginia Oil and Gas Act. He said Attorneys for the OAG only began corresponding with CONSOL energy affiliates to coordinate defense of the statute which is appropriate form because they had common interest in protecting the law.
But a new group of previously unreleased e-mails revealed Wednesday by the Bristol Hearld Courier shows that Senior Assistant Sharon Pigeon continued to communicate with defendants EQT Production and CNX Gas after the court had settled the issue of the constitutionality of the Oil and Gas Act. A magistrate judge reviewing the matter has expressed concern that Pigeon's communication with the companies doesn't appear to even address the constitutional question at all.
Cuccinelli was emphatic that the communication was appropriate and said that even though there may have been one ruling on the constitutional questions surrounding the Oil and Gas Act, that doesn't mean that part of the case is settled.
"It can come up in later stages of the case," the Attorney General said. "We don't just walk away from the cases, we stay in touch with the case."
The issue has given fodder to critical Democrats who point to the more than $100 thousand in donations that CONSOL and it's affiliates have given to Cuccinelli's campaign for governor. Cuccinelli said that a solution he has proposed in 2010 was forcefully rejected by the energy companies, but he fought for it anyway.
The legislation would've given surface landowners rights to the unused resources after 35 years. It also set up a board to resolve future fights over royalties. Cuccinelli proposed the legislation after his office issued an opinion that effectively took the teeth out of a law that would have presumed that landowners have the rights to the energy resources under their properties.
The General Assembly rejected the Cuccinelli's compromise plan but the Attorney General said he will fight to get it passed if elected Governor.
"While I'm governor we will get those royalties paid out and my opponent does nothing but play politics with it," he said.
Democrats and their candidate Terry McAuliffe, contend that the e-mails speak for themselves. They claim it shows that Cuccinelli allowed his office to go out of their way to help out of state energy companies instead of his constituents, the Virginia landowners.
"It's time for Ken Cuccinelli to drop his excuses and tell Virginians why his office was using their tax dollars against them in a case involving one of his biggest campaign contributors," said DPVA spokesman Brian Coy.
Cuccinelli is confident that the Inspector General's office will ultimately clear his office of any wrong doing. He said Wednesday that he welcomes their probe into his office's work. That investigation is only looking into the actions of the specific attorneys involved and not Cuccinelli himself. However- if the IG determines the investigation needs to go further the Attorney General will not stand in his way.
"There is no reason to (investigate the Attorney General specifically), your describing emails to an attorney because there were e-mails to one attorney," he said. "If anything broaden beyond that he has the authority to go beyond that."