LISBON - A couple filed a lawsuit Monday against their Lisbon attorneys, who they claim failed to handle their mineral rights lease properly costing them a signing bonus and future royalty dollars from Chesapeake Exploration.
John and Brenda Bica, owners of 10.65 acres in Middleton Township, further claim John P. Ward and Jerry J. Ward, both of the Ward Law Offices on Beaver Street, had a contract with Chesapeake Exploration compensating the attorneys when their clients signed leases. Additionally, the lawsuit continues that the Ward Law Offices, Dale Property Services Penn, LLC, (DPS Penn) and Chesapeake Exploration conspired to induce property owners to sign oil and gas leases through them, thus eliminating competitive and possibly more lucrative contracts with other companies.
The lawsuit claims Chesapeake controls landowner leases of more than 42,000 acres in Columbiana County with the Ward Law Office representing property owners for about 25 percent of those acres.
In the first part of the lawsuit the Bicas claim the Ward Law Office failed to file paperwork regarding their mineral leases in a timely manner. According to the lawsuit filed in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, the Bicas purchased the property in 1978, long after initial oil and gas rights for the property were granted to The Ohio Oil Co. That company would later become the Marathon Oil Co. and then in 1964 the Marathon Petroleum Co.
In the spring of 2011, DPS Penn on behalf of Chesapeake Exploration, began approaching the Bicas about a new possible oil and gas lease for their property. The Bicas hired the Wards to provide legal advice, and the law firm began steps to terminate the old lease with Marathon. A letter was sent to Marathon in July 2011 providing notice the Bicas were terminating the lease. Additional paperwork had to be filed with the county recorder's office during a window of at least 30 days and no later than 60 days following the initial letter. The lawsuit claims Ward Law Offices waited two days too long to file the paperwork.
The Bicas, not knowing there was an issue, signed a lease with Chesapeake, which was to pay them a $60,758 signing bonus and 20 percent royalty. However, Chesapeake and DPS Penn alerted the Bicas there was a problem with the property's mineral rights. The Ward Law Offices reportedly did not send another notice of the Bicas' intentions to Marathon and on Dec. 14, Marathon sent a notice to the Bicas the company intended to preserve its mineral interests.