Ethics Complaint Over Coal Lawyers’ Inbreeding Claim

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Last summer, four coal-industry attorneys from the DC firm Crowell & Moring made headlines when they suggested that a study linking mountaintop removal mining to birth defects in Appalachia failed to consider the (inconsequential) effects of inbreeding in the region. Then they went on to advertise their services to companies looking to “counter unfounded claims of injury or disease.” This week, former West Virginia lawyer Jason Huber filed an ethics complaint (PDF), alleging that the firm violated the DC Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which state that a “lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.”

The attorneys’ advertisement “perpetuates and exploits the empirically debunked notion that inbreeding is regularly practiced by the Appalachian People,” Huber wrote.

When Charleston Gazette blogger Ken Ward Jr. first pointed out the inbreeding statement that the law firm posted on its website in June, the firm quickly removed it and issued an apology. This week, a spokeswoman told Ward that Crowell & Moring “again express[es] our regret for any offense that might have been taken with the client alert, as it was meant only to relay a possible flaw with a scientific study.” But, she added, Huber’s “complaint is without merit.”

Ward has the full story here.