"It's like we brought an action in district court, and the district judge is acting like we are suing them, even though what we are really asking for is a decision," said Derrick Braaten, Peterson's attorney.
"They quite literally put themselves on the side of the oil companies," Braaten
Independent testing has shown that high concentrations of contaminants remain in the soil, Peterson and Braaten
"We have had some of our experts go out and they found significantly elevated levels of chlorides, which is an obvious indication that there is still saltwater contamination that exists in the area," Braaten
Braaten, a lawyer with Baumstark Braaten Law Partners in Bismarck, said at this point, he is unsure how to proceed with the case.
"It's weird because the complaint we actually brought was against these operators for spills and other violations," Braaten
"What we were asking for was the Industrial Commission
to look at this and determine whether they were in violation of statutes and regulations, and if they were, to enforce those statutes and regulations."
sent out a letter stating that, to his
understanding, the Industrial Commission
was supposed to serve as the adjudicating body and not a party to the lawsuit.
said the attorneys for the state responded with: "No, we're a respondent.
We're getting sued here.
We're a party."
disagreed with that fact.
said if Peterson actually wanted to sue the state, he
could have done so under different legal standing, but they chose not to go down that path.
"Quite frankly, as an attorney, I don't know what to do about that," Braaten
"They have decided that they are a party, and that they are on the defense."
said the oddest thing about the current circumstances is that the case will still be heard in front of the Industrial Commission
, even though they are now a defendant in the case.
"It's confusing to me because they are supposed to be the independent objective decision-maker, not the defendant," Braaten
While the case will have to be heard in front of the Industrial Commission
said Peterson had the right to appeal the case to a district court.
The one benefit to the state becoming party to the case, Braaten
said, is that more state officials are now open to deposition and the legal discovery process.
law firm would have had access to Department of Health officials before, Braaten
said the state's decision to become a quasi-defendant allows his
law firm to collect evidence from the Oil and Gas Division, too.
Braaten said it was never his intention to depose officials like Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, and Dave Glatt, the director of the Department of Health, but the circumstances have forced his hand.