EPA-Bashing Judge in Fracking Case Recuses Himself, Predictably Blames the Media

It must be codified somewhere in the Conservative's Guide to Crisis Management: Ensnared in scandal? Come across like an uninformed buffoon? Or are you a judge whose campaign fliers dispelled any appearance of impartiality in a really important case? Just blame it on the media.

Sarah Palin became a journo-castigating auteur when she labeled Katie Couric's softballs "gotcha" questions. Herman Cain laid his allegedly aggressive sexual overtures and imploded presidential campaign on our collective shoulders. Now Judge Trey Loftin, the Parker County district judge who, until last week, held down the bench in one of the messiest, most vengeful fracking contamination cases we've ever heard of, claims the merest whiff of impropriety, intensified by media coverage, required his voluntary removal from the case.

In other words, this little ditty distributed as part of his unsuccessful re-election bid for the district post had absolutely nothing at all to do with the odor of canonical contravention swirling around him: "The EPA, using falsified evidence provided by a liberal activist environmental consultant, accused and fined a local gas driller of contaminating wells. Obama's EPA backed down only after Judge Trey Loftin ruled that the evidence was 'deceptive.'"

Loftin was referencing the case of Steve Lipsky, the Parker County homeowner who sued Fort Worth-based Range Resources for contaminating his water well during its fracking operations beneath his property. Loftin punted, ruling that Lipsky would have to sue Range in an Austin court. The ruling was a death sentence, though, because the window in which to file had already closed. Yet when Range filed a countersuit for defamation, the judge denied Lipsky's motion to dismiss and ruled that his video of fire issuing from a garden hose attached to the head-space of his water well was "deceptive" because there was no water coming from the hose -- a fact immediately apparent to anyone who watches more than two seconds of it. A few months later, the EPA withdrew its endangerment order against Range, which agreed to sample surrounding water wells for one year. The judge fancifully claimed credit for the agency's withdrawal.

Loftin was promptly flamed both on this blog and in the national press for bragging about his rulings against Lipsky while the case remains in his court. How, Unfair Park asked, was Lipsky supposed to get a fair shake if the judge's best campaign plank involves crowing about how he really stuck it to him? Nay, Loftin wrote in his recusal letter to the state administrative judge, 'tis the media attention that has forced him to bow out: "Should I not be recused and remain on the case and later rule for the plaintiffs, I believe it will have the appearance that because I have been allegedly bullied by the media on behalf of the plaintiffs, I am afraid to rule against them. Conversely, should I rule against the plaintiffs, it may have the appearance that I am vindictive against the plaintiffs for filing a motion and participating in election related media attacks."

If that's the case, why exactly was "Rush Limbaugh congratulating Parker County's own Trey Loftin" again?

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Brantley Hargrove