Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Law firms that teamed up on Chesapeake royalty case have split up

Dan McDonald led a populous cause against Chesapeake over unpaid royalty payments to landowners.
Dan McDonald led a populous cause against Chesapeake over unpaid royalty payments to landowners. Star-Telegram archives

The two law firms that banded together to sue Chesapeake Energy over unpaid royalty payments in the Barnett Shale are parting ways because of “irreconcilable differences.”

Last week, Circelli, Walter & Young was granted permission by State District Judge Dana Womack to drop out of the case after significant disagreements emerged with attorney Dan McDonald and his law firm.

For those who need a refresher, McDonald led a populous cause against Chesapeake over unpaid royalty payments to landowners. He argued that the Oklahoma City energy giant improperly subtracted post-production costs from their checks, which led to a $51 million settlement in July. Over 91 percent of the 13,000 clients they represented agreed to the deal.

But that left open the question of who will represent the 1,100 clients who didn’t accept the deal, including 745 who haven’t been in communication with the two firms.

At first, McDonald’s law firm said it was withdrawing representation from those who did not follow its initial advice to settle, according to court documents. The Circelli law firm took steps to continue with the cases, going as far as talking to Chesapeake about how to proceed.

Then McDonald reversed course, saying he wanted to continue with the cases, records show.

That clearly didn’t go over well with the Circelli firm, which already felt that it had performed “far more extensive work” on the original cases than contemplated, records show. The firm said “stark differences became apparent in strategy, tactics, approach, as well as litigation philosophy” over preparing the cases for trial prior to the settlement.

Adding insult to injury, just before settling the case with Chesapeake in July, Circelli was sued by another attorney who said McDonald has promised him one-third of the fees recovered from the Chesapeake cases. Circelli has since been dropped from that case, which is proceeding.

In asking to withdraw, the Circelli law firm told the judge it “would like to avoid the risk of being drug into any other potential litigation” against McDonald and his law firm. The firm said its “irreconcilable differences” were so “untenable” that it was not in the best interest of the clients.

Womack agreed and granted a divorce. A hearing on the status of the remaining cases is set for Oct. 19.

Seems only Natural (Grocers)

Natural Grocers, the latest specialty grocer to enter the hyper-competitive North Texas market, plans to open its second Tarrant County location, in Hurst, this winter.

The Colorado-based organic foods and healthy products retailer opened on West Seventh Street in Fort Worth in June. Now it’s building a 15,000-square-foot store at 759 Grapevine Highway, just north of Precinct Line Road.

In addition to a selection of natural and organic foods including dairy products, bulk foods, meats, packaged foods and beverages, Natural Grocers sells body care products and supplements. Each store also has a nutrition coach, seeks local sourcing for products and has a community outreach program on healthy eating.

The chain, with 123 stores in 19 states, has three stores in Dallas and one each in Coppell and Denton. The Hurst store is expected to open in December or January.

Texas Health’s new strategy

When the former Forest Park Medical Center Fort Worth opened two years ago, it was part of a grand experiment. Under its model, the doctor-owned hospital initially sought wealthier patients with private insurance and not Medicare and Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Well, now the hospital has new ownership, a new name and a new outlook that does not plan to repeat that failed model.

Texas Health Resources reopened the 150,000-square-foot hospital last week as Texas Health Clearfork with a new philosophy that it will be in-network for all commercial payers, including Medicare, Medicaid and other government payers like Tricare.

Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan said the Clearfork facility, which is linked to its nearby Texas Health Southwest hospital and specializes in orthopedic procedures like joint and hip replacement, will be “open to any and all kinds” of patients.

Texas Health Resources, one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health systems in the country, has 27 acute-care and short-stay hospitals that are owned, operated, joint-ventured or affiliated with their system.

“We want to be sure that it became a part of our network and open to all our patients and all of the community,” Berdan said.

Berdan also said the former Forest Park facility fits nicely into his company’s overall business plans. He said the Southwest campus and nearby Texas Health Harris Methodist in the nearby hospital district run consistently near full capacity. Harris Methodist has 720 beds, Southwest 209.

Otherwise, the company was looking at the possibility of new building, Berdan has said.

“Making it a department of Southwest gives us a little breathing room there,” he said. “It gives us the relief we need for a period of time and we’ll see how that goes.”

Cavile Place consultant hired

Donald Babers, a Fort Worth native and former Housing and Urban Development regional director in Dallas, is being hired to consult on the redevelopment of Cavile Place in Historic Stop Six on the city’s east side.

The public housing complex is on track to be demolished and a development built in its place. Fort Worth’s Housing Finance Corp. recently approved a $150,000 contract with Babers.

Babers at one time served in HUD’s Fort Worth office. In 2006, he was appointed to oversee the recovery and redevelopment efforts of public housing in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. For that work, Babers earned the prestigious Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive, the highest award a federal civil servant can receive.

The Housing Finance Corp. and Fort Worth Housing Solutions are splitting the salary.

“This is something I feel good about,” said Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, whose district includes Cavile Place. “What attracted me to him was his role in the rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.”

Cavile Placeand Butler Place downtown are the last remaining complexes dedicated solely to low-income people. About 300 families live in Cavile Place, built in 1954. Residents should be moved out of Cavile Place by the end of 2018. Sandra Baker

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko