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Commercial lease covers it all – right?

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 20, 2017.


Jennifer Ivester Berry is a member of the firm’s Transactional Practice Group as an Of Counsel attorney. Jennifer represents individuals, privately-held and public companies in connection with a wide range of commercial real property matters.

By Phillips Murrah Of Counsel Attorney Jennifer Ivester Berry

For those involved in leasing commercial real estate – whether new to leasing or a seasoned industry pro – signing a lease can be a daunting endeavor.

The devil is in the details, and, more often than not, many standard forms omit critical considerations. Accordingly, a close examination of the terms is essential for a quality commercial lease.

Below are five important points to consider when leasing commercial property. These items are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather a starting point for the purposes of evaluation.

• Experience – Knowing the background and temperament of the other party is important. Is leasing commercial property the landlord’s primary business? Will a management company operate the property? Is the tenant established or just starting out? A knowledgeable, cooperative working relationship is imperative for a successful commercial lease.

• Type of lease – Details of what costs are covered and how they are apportioned should be carefully reviewed. For example, leases often described as triple net, meaning that the tenant is responsible for all costs associated with the leased premises other than structural repairs, can actually be a blend of two types of leases, triple net and gross. A gross lease splits the structural repairs and operation expenses between the landlord and tenant.

• Identification of leased premises – Often the outline of the space and delineation of its parameters is an attachment that does not make it into the lease until the end of the negotiations. It is important to verify up front that what is provided meets both parties’ expectations.

• Costs – Payments under a commercial lease can be categorized in several different ways, including rent, common area maintenance, assessments and dues. Awareness that a lower rental rate might be counterbalanced by a monthly fee for maintenance of the property, which is set to automatically increase each year, is essential. The ultimate focus should be on the full monthly cost, regardless of what it is called under the lease.

• Insurance – Insurance coverage requirements will vary based on lease type. It is important to identify two things: what the lease requires and whether such coverage is available, and whether the cost associated therewith is factored into the overall lease costs.

Jennifer Ivester Berry is an attorney at Phillips Murrah who specializes in commercial real estate property and energy-related matters.

Roth: Earth Day in action

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 17, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Earth Day in action

April is a busy time with significant holidays like Passover and Easter.

It’s also a time to celebrate the reawakening of the natural world around us as the spring equinox springs fauna and flora to life around us. And with Earth Day, April 22, approaching, it’s a great time to jump up, get out and put our lives in action for the world around us.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, although a growing consciousness had been building in America for decades. Soon the passage of landmark acts, such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act brought national prominence to these efforts. By the 1990s, Earth Day had spread across the Earth, activating more than 200 million people in over 140 countries and creating a true global awareness of the world we share in common.

So as we approach the 47th birthday of Earth Day in America, we can take great comfort in the tremendous progress that has actually been achieved here and abroad over these years and yet we have serious concerns that continue to mount and are causing grave, yes, grave consequences.

• Forests: Our planet is currently losing 56 acres of forests every minute, amounting to over 15 billion trees every year. These fading forests are necessary to combat climate change, de-carbonize our atmosphere, sustain important species and provide shelter and security to people across the globe. Former forested areas are now prone to massive erosion and displacement of cultures and animals worldwide.

• Species: Earth’s species are now going extinct faster than ever before and we have entered what credentialed scientists have described as a “sixth mass extinction brought on by global human activity.”

Whether you are motivated by faith, as many faithful people believe we have a calling to honor the world provided by the Creator, or whether you are motivated by a humanistic call to save lives from climate harm and disease brought on my droughts and famine, there are a few easy and obvious actions steps you can take to make a difference:

• Plant a tree or donate to plant a tree.

There are a number of national and world charities that do great work to reforest our planet and your modest donation can go a long way. Likewise, visit a local nursery and plant a new tree in your own yard, with your family’s help, and create a daily reminder of the tree of life out your own front door.

• Reduce your footprint.

There are many online tools to measure your ecological footprint to learn how to reduce your footprint on the planet. Here is a great link to get started: www.earthday.org/reduce-footprint-take-ecological-footprint-quiz.

• Stop using disposable plastic.

Make the decision today and simply stop. Carry your own bag into stores, insist on recycled paper bags or simply carry items in your arms the old-fashioned way, but however you stop using plastic, just stop. They are filling up landfills, polluting oceans and entangling and killing animals everywhere.

• Believe in science and let your voice be known.

There are activities all around this country, including a March for Science on the National Mall on Earth Day to fight efforts to silence science and instead create community engagements and knowledge sharing. As my partner likes to say: “science doesn’t care if you believe it or not, it just is science.”

This Earth Day is a great time to engage with yourself, your children, your family, your church, community and neighbors to do deliberate acts of good to help save Mother Earth. She really needs our help.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 3, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

As travelers enter into Oklahoma on one of 11 major highways from other states, they are greeted by a beautiful red granite monument featuring the Oklahoma state seal and the word Oklahoma.

However, to be fair, and based upon recurring actions from our state leaders, truth in advertising may require we amend the signs to read “Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor.”

“Caveat emptor” is a Latin phrase meaning “let the buyer beware.” Similar to the phrase “sold as is,” this phrase suggests that the buyer assumes the risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or be defective. The phrase is actually shortened from a longer legal concept, which is: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit, meaning “Let the purchaser beware, for he out not be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”

Now we Oklahomans surely pride ourselves on being good people who will look you in the eye and bind ourselves through our word and a handshake. Moreover, we should not need Latin phrases to prove our trustworthiness, or more accurately excuse our lack thereof. But times they are changing if the actions around our floundering state budget continue to erode the confidence of our own citizens and those precious investment dollars we invite in to help grow our state. Simply put, our erratic debtor’s behavior is making us a risky place to do business, and whether our welcome signs declare it or not, our legislative actions are spreading the word beyond our borders.

Last year, numerous bills were introduced targeting existing tax credits and other incentives, causing investors and companies in energy and aerospace to purportedly remove Oklahoma as a place to grow, expand or invest. Then near the end of the session, and without much warning, quick action immediately eliminated a tax subsidy for oil and gas wells that had become unprofitable due to the massive and sudden downturn in energy prices. Yes, an argument can be made that the budget hole necessitated drastic action, but to that operator that kept employing Oklahomans it probably felt like being kicked while you were already down.

Now this year, similar sudden action has been taken by both the House and the Senate to rip an existing tax incentive away from projects that are actually under construction in Oklahoma with the wind energy industry. Oklahoma invited billions of dollars in and now claims we cannot keep our word even though changing our word has zero effect on this coming year’s budget.

Standard & Poor’s global ratings announced in March it has lowered our bond rating a notch stating: “The downgrade reflects our view that persistently weak revenue collections – leading to a declared revenues failure for the remainder of the fiscal year (2017) – have further compounded the state’s challenge to achieve structural balance in fiscal 2018.”

These are desperate times and as is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. Our failed funding of public education is a crisis, which reverberates through our lives and economy in multiple ways beyond dropout rates and low test scores. It means higher incarceration rates and socialized expenses. It means greater poverty rates, hunger and divorce. It is a crisis and must be solved. We need steady, structural change to create revenue for our state’s needs.

However, to be erratic toward investment dollars, which we desperately need to grow our state towards more stable times, is a risk that can forever impair our state’s fullest potential. If we have become a credit risk, lenders will deploy their capital in more reliable states and the downward spiral continues here through less financing, fewer company expansions, and higher costs of debt, fewer energy projects and fewer jobs.

While desperate times may in fact exist, we Oklahomans should not ever trade in our good name. Not for an annual budget hole, not for political pressure, not for anything.

Others are watching our words and actions and they may rewrite our welcome sign for us.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Pushing American ingenuity forward

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 20, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Pushing American ingenuity forward

Two cars leave Detroit at the exact same time, traveling 60 miles per hour, headed to drive through every state in the continental United States over the coming years.

Car A begins and maintains a steady 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency during every year of its journey, while emitting 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over eight years. Car B begins year 2017 with 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency and adjusts upward each year to a level of 54 miles per gallon by 2025, while emitting only 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide during the same eight-year period.

Now unlike those typical rate-time-distance math questions, this presents a more direct question for the American consumer: Which car would you want to own?

For me, and my family’s budget, the answer is Car B.

Moreover, perhaps the bigger question, the great unknown with the scenario above that is actually beginning to play out in national politics today, is: Which car will be available for you from an American manufacturer?

That answer seems more likely to be Car A, if “Detroit” gets its way.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards are American regulations, first passed by Congress in 1975 in reaction to the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. These regulations exist to improve the average fuel economy of cars and “light trucks,” including trucks, vans and SUVs, produced for sale in America. The calculations and mathematical formulas for setting the CAFE standards have evolved over time and since 2012, the standards are determined through an inverse-linear formula reflecting the footprint of various vehicles by fleet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates CAFE standards and the Environmental Protection Agency measures vehicle fuel efficiency. Congress specifies that CAFE standards must be set at the “maximum feasible level” given consideration for: technological feasibility; economic practicality; effect of other standards on fuel economy; and need of the nation to conserve energy.

I wish that Congress would actually include a fifth consideration for the “need for American consumers to save money” or at least “need for American ingenuity to be pushed forward.”

While it’s probably true that most American consumer behavior is driven by pure economics, it has also been true that Americans will buy big gas guzzlers unless and until they can’t afford the largesse of that vehicle’s gas consumption. And the same is true, that many Americans will search out cars in the market that meet their budget-conscious needs too, as has been evident in the past decades as Japanese imports with higher fuel economy, better safety records and less maintenance costs began a strong foothold into the American market. Meanwhile, most American car manufacturers fought innovation and regulation, including fighting early versions of electric cars. I’m old enough to remember that was the first time that Detroit needed a taxpayer bailout.

So please pay close attention to the “Detroit 3” asking the president to reopen the new 2016 “Midterm CAFE Standards” and whether their reasons are to benefit the consumer or themselves. And although the 2025 model year target of 54.5 miles per gallon may seem tough, there is no doubt that the increasing fuel efficiency standards are a direct benefit to your families’ bottom line, to our collective energy and national security and to the arc of American ingenuity.

Lets’ not take our foot off the accelerator now.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Mary Holloway Richard sourced in article investigating hospital merger

Mary Holloway Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families.

Mary Holloway Richard, Phillips Murrah Of Counsel Attorney and leader of the Firm’s Health Care Practice, was quoted in a Journal Record article by Sarah Terry-Cobo regarding an attempted merger by OU Medical System and how best to financially achieve that mission.

Read Richard’s comments from the article below:

OKLAHOMA CITY – When it comes to complicated relationships, sometimes it just takes the right partner. After a failed hospital merger was announced Monday, OU Medical System could still find its better half.

But making that match probably won’t be easy, said industry observers. Health care attorney Mary Holloway Richard said a potential partner needs the business expertise as well as the financial backing to purchase a large teaching hospital.

Richard said teaching hospitals have historically had higher costs than non-academic hospitals.

A potential partner has to evaluate the economic feasibility, regardless of whether parties are considering an outright acquisition or a joint venture, she said.

“Will it fit in with your overall business model?” Richard said. “(A teaching hospital) is a complex system, so how you incorporate that complex system into an existing system requires mastery of both the business model and the financial feasibility, as well as recognition of the compliance issues at play.”

Read the full article at the Journal Record.

Roth: We need more energy markets, not fewer

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 30, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

We need more energy markets, not fewer

Oklahoma’s energy blessings far exceed our own state’s needs and demand, which is why we have long sought markets beyond our borders.

We typically export our state’s largest commodities, especially natural gas, and we have become optimistic about global markets opening up to help take some of the massive over-supply that the American shale renaissance has helped create. A fight with our neighbors in Mexico is not good for Oklahoma, our economy or the promise of moving past the current recession that has gripped our state.

Since 2009 to now, U.S. pipeline exports of natural gas everywhere have doubled and almost all of that growth has been from exports from the U.S. to Mexico. In fact, since 2015, Mexico accounts for more than one-half of all U.S. exports of natural gas. Daily average pipeline exports now exceed 3.5 billion cubic feet per day, which is 85 percent above the previous five-year-period average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Much of Mexico’s growth in natural gas consumption has been attributed to the growth in Mexico’s domestic electricity demand and the fact that Mexico, like the United States, has been choosing cleaner-burning natural gas for its power plants. Northern Mexico is particularly growing and the demand is expected to continue. In fact, Mexico announced in 2015 a five-year plan to significantly increase its pipeline infrastructure with 12 new pipelines over 3,200 miles, to allow for greater importation of American natural gas for its energy needs. As of today, contracts have been awarded on seven of the 12 pipelines, including a 2.6-billion-cubic-feet-per-day capacity pipe from southern Texas to Mexican states along the Gulf of Mexico.

We should want these markets to grow and we should want this infrastructure to access the massive supply available here in America. Those two things can directly benefit Oklahoma and the many producers who call Oklahoma home, regardless of where they produce.

This month USA Today ran an article that described how “six of the eight top oil-pumping states hit recession,” and the article quoted S&P saying about Oklahoma, “even modest economic softness could have prolonged negative effects.”

We already know that our state budget and economy are in peril because of the massive downturn in oil and gas commodity prices, which have led to serious drops in tax revenues. It is suggested that the 2018 budget will be off another 12.6 percent less spending capacity from even this year’s reduced budget.

Now is not the time to play political games with a neighbor and customer that accounts for such significant growth in our ability to export American and Oklahoma energies. Our economy and our national security are both better served by growing foreign markets for American goods.

Or as President Ronald Reagan said on May 16, 1987: “We should be trying to foster the growth of two-way trade, not trying to put up roadblocks, to open foreign markets, not close our own.”

Let’s throw that idea up against the proverbial “wall” and see what sticks today.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Medical bankruptcies likely to rise

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on Jan. 26, 2017.


Clayton D. Ketter is a Director and a litigator whose practice involves a wide range of business litigation in both federal and state court, including extensive experience in financial restructurings and bankruptcy matters.

By Phillips Murrah Director Clayton D. Ketter

One of the central promises of Donald Trump’s candidacy was that, once elected, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) would be repealed. Now, with President Trump in office, and aided by a Republican Congress, the ACA’s remaining days are likely numbered.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the ACA has resulted in an estimated 20 million people who previously lacked health insurance becoming insured. Along with the many other effects resulting from a large number of Americans becoming insured, one less discussed consequence was a drop in medical-related bankruptcy filings.

Research by Daniel A. Austen, an associate professor at the Northeastern University School of Law, found that medical costs were a predominant cause of between 18 to 25 percent of all bankruptcies. Since the ACA was passed, one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that medical debt had been significantly reduced for those covered by the act.

These findings are intuitive, as hospital visits are often unexpected and typically result in large bills. Without insurance, most individuals lack the financial flexibility to absorb those medical debts. Bankruptcy can be an effective tool in those situations, as it can either allow a person to repay the debt over time or, in some cases, wipe it out altogether.

Problems can arise, however, for those facing ongoing health issues. A bankruptcy filing will only eliminate past debt. It does nothing for liabilities incurred after the bankruptcy is filed. Further, there are certain time restrictions to how often a person can receive a bankruptcy discharge. Depending on the type of bankruptcy at issue, those time limitations can be up to eight years. Thus, if an uninsured person is faced with a health issue that forces them to seek bankruptcy, his or her financial options may be seriously constrained if health issues return before the time limitations have run.

Such scenarios are all too familiar to bankruptcy practitioners, especially given insurance companies’ distaste to insuring people who have histories of health issues. Although there has been a temporary decline in those types of cases, they are likely to make a comeback should Congress choose to repeal the ACA without enacting a replacement or stopgap.

Clayton D. Ketter is a litigator at Phillips Murrah with experience in financial restructurings and bankruptcy matters.

Office Visit: Therapists need liability protection

By Mary Holloway Richard, Of Counsel for Phillips Murrah. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 18, 2017.


Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families.

Office Visit: Therapists need liability protection

Behavioral health is a unique subset of health care law. I long have been privileged to see firsthand the challenges in working as a therapist while successfully avoiding liability and regulatory land mines, and I am empathetic with patients and families.

I believe it is important to provide protection from liability for therapists and to eschew expansion to predicting dangerousness of patients as the standard of care to which they are held. Therapists must adhere to standards of care that, when breached, result in liability to a patient for harm caused by that breach. Forty years ago the therapist’s burden was expanded to encompass a duty to warn third parties under certain circumstances in Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of California.

Recently the Washington Supreme Court decided Volk v. DeMeerleer, expanding liability of mental health professionals to unidentified individuals. As in Tarasoff, reactions among states can range from adopting to rejecting the rule in response. Such decisions are framed in reliance on laws in other states, scholarly articles and treatises, such as the creation of post-Tarasoff California statutory immunity for the therapist’s duty to warn third parties.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in Volk that a psychiatrist could be liable for homicides even though the victims were not identified as targets of violence. The decision expands the scope of liability beyond the professional’s traditional duty to create a duty to identified third parties and may also result in expanding the rule from mental health professionals to other providers.

It is true that the Volk case concerned the murders of a young mother and her son as well as the suicide of the patient who killed them, and we are all too familiar with the facts of Columbine and Newtown. And society must protect these individuals. We must balance the need to protect our communities from violence with the need to protect our providers from the reprehensible burden of liability for predicting violent propensities.

The Washington Supreme Court stated that whether the patient’s violent actions were foreseeable should have been resolved by a jury and created instability concerning professional liability. It remains to be seen if this holding reflects a national trend of expanding the scope of liability for mental health and other health care professionals.

Mary Richard is a health care attorney with Phillips Murrah and a member of the Behavioral Health Task Force of the American Health Lawyers Association.

Roth: The energy baseline

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 16, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The energy baseline

The following information is proven by independent, empirical data provided from the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration within the U.S. Department of Energy and is not “fake news,” although it may not jibe with the conventional wisdom created by political theater: American oil production has experienced the biggest increase in history under President Obama’s tenure, up 87 percent.

Don’t believe it? Check out the actual data between 1920 and 2016: www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPUS1&f=M.

Now to be fair, not all the credit or blame for America’s energy picture can be attributed to any incumbent president, although most observers would say that more often they get the blame than any credit.

The combination of advances in technology like deep horizontal drilling and hydraulic well stimulation has unlocked massive amounts of previously unreachable reserves. Also, high energy prices had attracted a good deal of investment in this industry, which also helped drive exploration and production. And it might even surprise you to learn that production is also up on federal lands, which did require the approval of the Obama administration.

The same real-life data also proves that “clean energy” production, in the form of renewables and even energy efficiencies, have increased at historic rates, almost tripling during the past two terms. Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, cleaner-burning, abundant, American natural gas has replaced old, dirtier coal plants and transformed the power generation sector.

Yet, if you tuned into the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 campaign for president, you may have left disillusioned about America’s energy picture in spite of the facts. Signs reading “Trump digs Coal” may have helped persuade West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio voters, but the winning economics of cheaper natural gas today may trump any federal effort to prop up yesterday’s coal over the next four or eight years. Also, America now employs more people in solar energy alone versus coal, let alone the many other forms of renewable energy like wind, hydro and biomass.

The state of our country’s energy production reality is strong, and growing. And the gains and direction achieved over the last two terms have all benefited our native Oklahoma as well, with historic growth in the forms of energy with which we are blessed.

As America undergoes a change in presidential administrations, it will be interesting to see what detours from these advances are pushed and what change may occur to the current trajectories. And as it relates to the unique combination of national security and economic prosperity achievable by greater domestic oil production and less imported foreign oil, please follow the facts to see what it may mean for you, your family, your business, your state and your country.

It will be important to recall the energy benchmark of predecessors to measure whether the new guy outperforms the previous guys, as it relates to energy independence. When President Richard Nixon, in his second term, famously declared the need for “energy independence within 10 years,” America was importing 35 percent of its petroleum. Nearing the end of oil-friendly Texan George W. Bush, America was importing nearly 60 percent of its total petroleum consumption from foreign sources and now with President Barack Obama it’s down to 24 percent.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Let it snow

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 9, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Let it snow

Snow: (noun) a precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius. (Merriam-Webster)

Snow seems to be something that people either love or hate. I love it. In fact, snowfall seems to trigger some inner kid in me, forever long as I can remember, that allows me to enjoy the beauty of it and even admire the way it can slow the hectic world around us even if just for a day. As a kid in the 1970s, I enjoyed making igloos that would last for days and weeks around Kansas City, where I grew up and sledding was also a fun experiment with gravity and speed.

And I recognize that some people really aren’t fans of snow and winter weather. To some it’s just dangerous and an interruption to school, work and life. But there are reasons that all people should welcome snow and what it means for our world. Here’s what I mean.

If you eat you should welcome snow, as it’s a vital part of agriculture production in many parts of America and beyond. Our farmers need snow to provide critical moisture to fields ahead of the planting in the spring. Once it melts it’s providing irrigation across all parts of a farmer’s field, even those areas beyond the reach of irrigation systems.

And it’s even more necessary to help blanket winter crops like Oklahoma’s winter wheat, providing a snow blanket of protection from those extremely cold days impacting the fall plantings. Agricultural shortages, as we’ve seen from drought conditions across parts of our country, are a direct hurt on those producers and an indirect hurt to your family’s budget.

If you enjoy nature you should welcome snow, as its thermal insulation helps many species dig snow caves for hibernating through the winter. Fresh snows, which have a high percentage of trapped air, help to reduce heat transfer and provide great insulation for many animals to survive their cold winters.

If you like a little quiet around you then you certainly must enjoy how fresh snow can lessen sound waves as the snow absorbs snow at the surface. You can probably remember how quiet life feels when you walk outside into a fresh snow. It’s a rare chance to turn down the volume around us.

And beyond these more immediate, obvious positives of snow and snowfall impacting our daily lives, even more significant benefits of snow are how it serves as Earth’s sunblock and water source for our entire planet’s sake.

If you’ve ever looked down at snow on a sunny day you too know that it really reflects the sunlight back off the ground. This may be a nuisance to anyone without sunglasses on, but this reality is critical to helping cool the planet, something that must happen in these winter months or Earth’s climate risks accelerate even faster. And as daylight hours increase toward the spring, late winter and spring snowfalls are even more important as a sunblock, albeit they are becoming rarer over the last 50 years.

Finally, snowmelt from layers of packed snow that have accumulated in mountain regions are one of the primary sources of fresh water on Earth and here in America. It is estimated that our Western states may get as much as 75 percent of their water supply from these snowmelts and even the East Coast areas benefit from the same life-sustaining annual thaw.

So whether you may fear that next snowfall because of traffic worries or you bounce out of bed happy to enjoy a day of play, please know that those tiny frozen water molecules blanketing the Earth are critical to our very survival. Plus, they can be a lot of fun for a kids of all ages.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Thanks, OPEC?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 5, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Thanks, OPEC?

As an American consumer, more often than not OPEC has truly been a four-letter word, causing price spikes and negative impacts to our broader economy.

But as you fill up your car for holiday travel, at around $1.60 a gallon for gasoline, many Americans can be thankful for the low energy prices fueling their lives. Global oil prices have been under serious downward pressure for the past two years mostly because Saudi Arabia convinced its OPEC brethren to let market forces set the price and production continued to soar.

As an American energy enthusiast, I know that much of the thanks goes to our own domestic producers, the new technologies to discover and recover new reserves and the historic amounts of oil and gas production their ingenuity has made possible, thereby also providing oversupply to the benefit of American consumers.

But as an Oklahoman, I’m hesitant to give thanks to OPEC for much, especially as their two-plus-year campaign of oversupply was probably intended to hurt American producers, many of them right here in our part of the country. And in many ways it worked, as we’ve witnessed massive job losses, business contractions, some bankruptcies and general carnage in the energy services industries.

What is OPEC and why does it matter? Begun in 1960 in Baghdad, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is a permanent, inter-governmental organization whose founding members include: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Nine other member countries have joined over time: Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Angola and Gabon and all other members operate under a Declaratory Statement of Petroleum Policy, which essentially expresses an inalienable right of these countries to exercise sovereignty over their natural resources in the interests of their national development.

These stated rights and purposes led to OPEC’s quick growing prominence as early as 1973 with the Arab oil embargo and its steep rise in oil prices. Since that time global and American economic cycles have been impacted by OPEC’s production and policies, sometimes as a symptom, sometimes the cause.

OPEC completed a deal to cut production (first cut since the recession of late 2008) and adopt other policies that have contributed to a sharp rally in oil prices around the world and here at home. The agreement to reduce their collective output by 1.2 million barrels a day to a new ceiling of 32.5 million barrels was a deeper cut than most observers were expecting.

Saudi Arabia will make the biggest cut at 486,000 barrels, but may actually increase its revenue because of the correspondent rise in prices per barrel. The new wrinkle is that non-OPEC countries, namely Russia, have purportedly also agreed to cut their production as well.

As we Americans also know not to trust Russia without verification, OPEC’s agreement also includes the implementation of a “high-level monitoring committee” to make sure parties abide by the terms of the agreement. They would do well to follow the agreement and enjoy an uptick in commodity prices, thereby earning as much or more revenue while leaving more supply in the ground for their later benefit.

Yet, if oil prices continue to rise, most expect American shale producers to ramp up output in hopes of regaining some lost profits (or at least ending losses), thereby creating a market cap of their own with a corresponding effect on oil prices. So the real question in light of OPEC’s announced production cut is whether American producers will avoid too much production coming back in and causing prices to collapse again.

Yes, I’m a consumer who is thankful to OPEC for the low prices these past years, but I’ll be a more thankful American and Oklahoman with American energy producers back in charge of their own destiny.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Office Visit: Taming the Reptile lawyer

By Director G. Calvin Sharpe. This guest column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 29, 2016.


G. Calvin Sharpe has 30 years of experience in Oklahoma courtrooms, representing a diverse list of business clients in matters relating to medical malpractice, medical devices, products liability, insurance and commercial litigation.

Office Visit: Taming the Reptile lawyer

The Reptile Theory is a legal trend that has recently gained popularity with the plaintiff’s bar. It is a strategy used to shift jury attention from considering complex trial details typical of a medical malpractice case, to reaction-driven responses that arise from the reptilian portion of the brain. The most primitive cognitive functions, such as breathing, hunger and survival, are generated from this inner portion of the brain, called the basal ganglia or the reptilian complex.

With the common assumption that jurors want to expose and punish the existence of danger, Reptile attorneys seek to establish the defendant doctor or health care provider as careless, indifferent or even malicious in their disregard for safety. The jury’s perception that the defendant endangered the plaintiff will stimulate the survival mechanism deep in their reptile complex. Thus, the jury will act to protect themselves and the community by awarding a substantial verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

As a health care defense litigator in Oklahoma, I have experienced this method firsthand. The Reptile Theory is successfully utilized to secure favorable verdicts and high damage awards. However, just as trends ascend, so do counterstrategies. The Reptile strategy is not the Jedi Mind Trick, and with proper preparation, defense lawyers can derail Reptile attorneys’ efforts before they can derail the jury.

A critical part of defending the Reptile method is to spend adequate time preparing witnesses for deposition, and subsequently, trial cross-examination. During deposition, the Reptile attorney will likely begin the process of establishing a collection of artificial safety rules that exceed the degree of prudence and caution required by law, known as Standard of Care.

For example, a deposed physician may be asked, “Is the ultimate safety of a patient the most important consideration in medical care?” An unprepared defendant would naturally want to say, “yes, of course.” However, this can be used during trial to characterize the physician as careless and unsafe when artificial safety rules established in deposition are contradicted, even if they exceed the legal standard of care required for a physician or health care provider.

Understanding of Reptile Theory within the legal community is still evolving. Defense lawyers are well-advised to educate themselves, their clients and the judge prior to squaring off against a Reptile lawyer.

G. Calvin Sharpe is a trial lawyer at Phillips Murrah law firm in Oklahoma City.

Director’s Woman of the Year honor shared in hometown newspaper

Dawn Rahme

Dawn Rahme

Phillips Murrah Director Dawn Rahme was featured in an article in the Ponca City News noting her achievement as one of the Journal Record’s Women of the Year.

“Hard work, integrity and passion will guide me to success throughout my life,” Rahme said in the article. “Though my life has been much easier than his – thanks to him and my mother – my goal remains to follow his example in life: take pride in what I do and work hard to achieve success.”

Read more about the Woman of the Year honor given to Rahme and Phillips Murrah attorneys Sally Hasenfratz and Mary Holloway Richard here.

Roth: Is there a price for nationalism?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 7, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Is there a price for nationalism?

This year we have seen perhaps the best of nationalism and perhaps the worst of it. From the 2016 Olympic Games and the American pride and patriotic togetherness they created, to the political rhetoric at play in this year’s presidential election calling for an America First approach to government policy, Americans are being asked to rally to an us-versus-them mentality.

But at what cost? And who is the “us” and who is the “them”?

Nationalism has been defined as: a shared group feeling in the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region seeking independence for its culture or ethnicity that holds that group together.

The problem seems to be, unlike cheering for the many diverse faces (culturally, religiously, racially) of these many talented American athletes, as they wear the same red, white and blue, nationalism in the political sphere seems to be more about division than prideful multiplication.

The danger of nationalism in America, the world’s most diverse country ever, is that the underlying nationalistic belief that citizenship should be limited to one religion (Christianity via Muslim ban) or one race (Caucasian via immigrants or “Mexican rapists”) is that it has most always led to the weakening of American interests at home and abroad.

For example, the America First approach to foreign policy, begun in the late 1930s, which encouraged inaction in world conflicts generally, and the appeasement of Adolf Hitler specifically, swept the country, allowing Hitler to sweep across much of Europe. Once America joined the war effort, the severity of the lives lost was much more than it would have been if America and allies had engaged sooner, with over 60 million people killed, including 419,400 dead Americans. It became the deadliest military conflict in world history and included horrific crimes against humanity and war-related famine taking the lives of millions more civilians. Most scholars would suggest that nationalism at home led to worse ultimate results at American expense.

And in economic terms, the idea of nationalism can also cause unintended negative consequences leading to economic isolation and decline. As one or more candidates for high office brag about ripping up trade deals, bringing back jobs and rigged economics, these slogans ignore the American reality that our economy has benefited from a global market. Yes, we often import more goods and services than we would like, but we also export a huge amount of American products to the world, often worth much more than the cheaper items we import.

Yes, these are complicated issues and yes it’s right to do more to strengthen our economy at home, but we must require more from our presidents than empty rhetoric, based in fear and misplaced cries of nationalism. Instead, America has always done better when we claim our place in the world, not shy away from it or withdraw; when we stand strong as a beacon of inclusive hope, freedom and liberty for a diverse culture, which in turn attracts the best of the world to America’s golden door.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Please vote. And please vote for the kind of America, where its diverse people fight for a proud country and earn the gold medal on the world stage, not the type of America where divisive nationalism shrinks our future and removes us further from that more perfect union.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Clean water, local control and Oklahomans united against SQ 777

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 31, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Clean water, local control and Oklahomans united against SQ 777

There is no question that this year’s political cycle has been a particularly divisive one. On the national level, the rhetoric is ramped up to unprecedented levels, and there’s a clear divide in our country that may take generations to heal.

Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree with other Republicans and other Democrats; forget trying to find common ground across the aisle – unless you look at one of the state questions on the ballot in Oklahoma. Seemingly out of nowhere, a diverse coalition has emerged, and Republicans and Democrats alike are united in their opposition to State Question 777.

As you may know by now, SQ 777 is a proposed constitutional amendment that will make it virtually impossible for our Legislature, municipalities and administrative agencies to implement reasonable regulations on any aspect of the agricultural industry. No industry in Oklahoma currently enjoys this type of constitutional protection. And in my opinion, none should.

SQ 777’s proponents rail against government overreach and claim it will protect farms from burdensome overregulation, but Oklahomans aren’t buying it.

In fact, by preventing our local officials from having a say in future agriculture policy, SQ 777 will invite increased attention and intervention from federal regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, if Oklahoma so severely restricts its ability to self-govern, the only authority left to fill the void will come from Washington, D.C. And we Oklahomans know better that the best form of government is that which is closest to the people, here at home.

Those opposing SQ 777 cite a wide range of concerns: protection of our water; making sure our laws banning cockfighting and puppy mills stay on the books; and safeguarding family farms from the havoc wreaked by corporate, foreign-owned farming operations all factor in to this unlikely band of naysayers.

And this band of naysayers is diverse and growing.

Those opposed to SQ 777 include Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, Coach Barry Switzer, Gov. Brad Henry (D) and Gov. David Walters (D), just to name a few. Organizations against SQ 777 include the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, League of Women Voters and Save the Illinois River.

The Cherokee County Republican Women and the Cherokee County Federation of Democratic Women have even signed a joint resolution in opposition to the proposed amendment. Now that ought to tell us all something when leaders in both parties come together to protect our Oklahoma rights.

Municipalities of all sizes from Broken Bow to Oklahoma City have voiced their concerns as have the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments. Newspapers across the state are also urging voters to reject the proposal.

While their reasons may differ, opponents of SQ 777 are united at a time when vitriol and discord have become the norm.

I hope on Election Day the ballots will show what recent polling shows on SQ 777, Oklahomans are in agreement. We must vote no on this dangerous, unnecessary proposal.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

The tax audits are coming!

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on Oct. 27, 2016.


Chase H. Schnebel is a member of the Tax and Private Wealth Practice Group and assists clients in a variety of tax, business, and asset management issues.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Chase H. Schnebel

The state of Oklahoma has ramped up efforts to collect tax revenue from those that may not be paying their fair share. Senate Bill 1579, signed into law in May, directs the Oklahoma Tax Commission “to enhance agency efforts to discover and reduce fraud and abuse of sales and use tax exemptions provided pursuant to the Sales and Use Tax Codes and the nonfiling and underreporting of sales and use taxes due and owing.”

The fiscal impact statement for SB 1579 has an estimated cost of approximately $4 million, but estimates increased revenues in excess of $50 million, with $26 million from increased sales tax collections. The law also directs the OTC to increase its audit staff to detect “through the use of enhanced technology” those who may owe the state money. With an estimated addition of 50 auditors, there is no doubt that the number of audits will increase.

An audit will typically start with the OTC requesting access to substantial business records. During the process, a taxpayer can expect to receive ongoing requests for documentation and explanations. The audit process involves close scrutiny of accounting records, tax returns, transactional documents, banking records and other relevant business records. If the audit results in a determination that the taxpayer owes tax, the OTC will issue a proposed assessment that may also include penalty and interest assessments.

A tax audit can be an invasive process and, upon receipt of an audit notification, individuals and businesses often feel vulnerable. A strategic approach to organizing and producing business records can substantially reduce exposure to assessments and the amount of time and resources necessary to complete the audit. Experienced tax professionals have knowledge of OTC audit procedures, statutes and regulations, which can be helpful in closing the audit process. If the OTC issues a proposed assessment, there are administrative procedures available that allow taxpayers to protest the assessment, request a waiver of penalty and interest assessments, and request an installment agreement to ensure a one-time assessment does not result in closure of the business.

The prospect of a state tax audit can be frightening and the process can be disruptive. To achieve the most desired possible outcome, it is important to involve tax professionals at the very beginning of the audit.

Chase H. Schnebel is an attorney at Phillips Murrah PC who specializes in tax issues.

Roth: A ‘rigged’ election?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 24, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A ‘rigged’ election?

I know, I know, we are all growing tired of the 24/7 news around our election for a new U.S. president and in just two weeks it should all be over.

But the headline of this column is not about one candidate’s unprecedented forecast of possible election fraud as a cause of his likely defeat. No, this headline is about the other kind of “rigging” that has more often been a subject of debate in American presidential politics.

For the first time in my life, the presidential election year debate around America’s possible role in the turmoil of the Middle East has nothing to do with the economic implications to our need for Middle Eastern oil and gas. Instead, because of the success and unprecedented production of America’s domestic resources over the past years, Americans are now debating the role of America in Syria, Yemen and Iraq on purely humanitarian and global security grounds.

Gone are the spoken or unspoken rationales for early military intervention in places like Kuwait, where we pushed back the aggression of Saddam Hussein, who had overtaken that country’s constitutional monarchy for control of its rick oil fields and its strategic place along the Arabian tip of the Persian Gulf. Gone too is the notion that we should bring democracy to places like Iraq, or topple dictators like Hussein, begun in 2003 under the guise of expanding freedoms and revenging supposed involvement during the 9/11 attacks.

To illustrate how far we’ve moved as a country, both candidates for president of our two major political parties now disavow their earlier support for the invasion of Iraq just 13 years on. And I’m not trying to conflate the idea of 9/11 revenge or Hussein tyranny as justifications. My point is that for decades America’s activism in the Middle East, whether through military intervention, military sales or regime change, has been rooted in what it meant to our country’s economic interest. Intervention often helped stabilize global markets and our energy-dependent economy at home.

But thanks to the ingenuity, technological advances and drive of America’s oil and gas producers over the past decade, our country now stands on its own production better than ever. Our ability to identify, drill and produce new reserves in massive quantities has allowed America to achieve much-improved national security through the drill bit.

The U.S. shale revolution is the most significant global energy development in a quarter century or more. Our oil and gas commodity markets and the broader economy are no longer impacted my Middle East unrest half a world away, or even the hurricane seasons in our own hemisphere.

With a horrific humanitarian toll growing as Syria rages, with Saudi Arabia in a military fight in Yemen and with Iraqi forces on the march in Mosul, America Oil remains steady at just above $50 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate. The global benchmark price is also relatively stable at just above $51 a barrel for Brent Crude.

The American rig count is at 553 active rigs, up 42 rigs from a month earlier, yet it is down 234 rigs from this time last year. And oil prices are still steady.

American energy security is being met more by Americans than ever before and it’s making for a new evolution in American politics. So the new question for the next president, and really all of us American citizens, on the modern challenges of the Middle East is becoming: What’s our role in the region now that the growing need is more humanitarian interests than economic?

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Happy birthday for all of us Americans

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 29, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Happy birthday for all of us Americans

If this heading makes you think you’ve picked up a copy of The Journal Record’s July 4th issue, I apologize for the confusion. We are always right to joyously celebrate our country’s Independence Day and the importance of the somewhat intangible principles of freedom and liberty that bind our amazing republic, but I am wishing you all a very happy birthday for something more tangible: the land, rivers, valleys and mountains that make up our National Park Service, which turned 100 on Aug. 26.

Happy birthday indeed. The first hundred years have not been easy, including the start in 1916 when Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act, creating a new agency with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The NPS is charged with the roles of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of places while also making them available for public use and enjoyment.

According to their mission: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

With more than 275 million visitors a year, our national parks create unique opportunities for busy American families, who now more than ever dwell in urban settings, to connect with nature and to develop an appreciation for the boundless, living world around our beautiful America.

Even before the National Park Service was officially begun, patriotic tributes to our land existed in many forms, such as America the Beautiful, whose words were first written as a poem in 1895, then soon combined with a choirmaster’s music and published in their first form in 1910. The lyrics we know today are as important to honor our American experience as perhaps our national anthem:

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

We should honor and defend these treasures in every way, as a unique enrichment to the American experience.

And just this past week, the designation of the 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument along the Maine Coast and the Penobscot River, creating the 413th national park site, home to lynx, bears, moose, brook trout and rare birds such as the American three-toed woodpecker, provides yet another chance for all Americans to visit the land from sea to shining sea.

When I was a teenager, my dad began offering me life and financial advice from his own observations. And although I wish I would have taken better to heart concepts like compounding interest, something that has always stayed with me was his admonition to: “invest in the land and earth around you, as it may be the only finite resource as an investment choice you can make.”

I am thankful that our forebearers believed the same about the amazing majesty of places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, the Great Smokey Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and so many others. Cheers to the next 100 years.

So please, as you contemplate the ways you might celebrate your upcoming Labor Day holiday, please consider visiting one of your many national parks, monuments and sites and help celebrate those visionaries that made today’s inspiration still possible.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah PC in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The built environment and coming trends

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 22, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The built environment and coming trends

I once read “A house is made of bricks and beams, a home is made of hopes and dreams,” which is a great way to describe the difference between a structure and a habitat.

And we in America, where home ownership has long been described as a main ingredient to the American dream, spend a great deal of thought and action focused on the habitat, but seemingly much less intention about the structure itself. And both matter.

Most of us live in homes or apartments built by other people or companies, however large or small the development. About 66.5 percent of our state’s citizens live in owner-occupied housing, with a median value of $115,000, monthly owner costs of around $1,150 including the mortgage and an average of 2.56 people per household, according to the U.S. Census. For those of us that rent, the median gross rent is $717.

But as we learn more about choices in our built environment, Americans are becoming more conscience of the brick and beams that might determine how comfortable and how affordable our habitat becomes. Old construction techniques with cheaper windows, little to no insulation, inefficient lighting and appliances and inefficient heat and air can actually cost a family more over time than a well-built home with a slightly higher mortgage or rent and lower utilities.

Americans today, before they remodel an existing home or build a new one, are considering energy-efficiency issues more than ever and many are undertaking what’s known as the whole-house systems approach for analysis. Some utilities sponsor energy assessments and retrofit programs and many modern builders are taking the lead to achieve higher Home Energy Scores in the national rating system developed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Some trends in housing are moving the proverbial ball even further toward ultra-efficient homes, which combine state-of-the-art construction materials and techniques, lighting and commercially available renewable energy systems, such as geothermal and solar energy technologies sited with the home. Builders are also taking advantage of climate and topographic realities to position homes to block out excessive heat gain, but also maximize passive-solar gain at times like the winter months.

Here are a few of the additional, available trends to achieve your own ultra-efficient home or remodel project:

  • Energy-efficient appliances and home electronics.
  • Conservation principles for energy and materials.
  • Low-energy lighting and greater use of daylighting.
  • Advanced house framing, which reduces lumber use and waste.
  • Cool roofs, which use highly reflective materials to absorb less heat by reflecting more of the sunlight during hot weather.
  • Passive solar heat design, such as southern-facing windows that would allow the lower winter sun to help with heat gain, but perhaps with an awning or overhang that protects from the higher summer sun’s unforgiving heat.
  • Increased focus on a healthy home environment, such as increased air and water supply quality, and reducing or eliminating harmful materials or chemicals.

So whether you are a renter saving to buy a home, a homeowner ready to remodel your built environment or a person looking to design or build your own habitat, efficiency in many more forms than ever before will be found not only in the design of these structures, but also in most of the products that are used in the construction of them. Consumer awareness and demand are growing technological choices and the development of products for the most efficient built environment in American history, sans perhaps our forebearers who lived off the local land with a mutual respect for it and it for them.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah PC in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Summer driving is not helping oil, gas

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 8, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Summer driving is not helping oil, gas

The American Automobile Association, better known as AAA, has a motto: “Always take the scenic route.”

And America surely affords many options for great scenery along its roadsides in all corners and across this great country. But the view and the reality of how we traverse these miles are changing in ways we’ve never seen before.

In the midst of the annual “summer driving season” the price of oil and gas has seen an unusual slump, now well off double digits from around Memorial Day.

The overproduction of refined petroleum in the form of gasoline has Americans enjoying much cheaper fuel than usual and even cheaper than expected for 2016. According to GasBuddy’s 2016 forecast (www.gasbuddy.com), June was forecast to average $2.48 a gallon, July $2.43 and August $2.46. So far the data that’s in shows us that June came in at a national average of $2.36 and July is expected to have averaged $2.24 for unleaded fuel. These amounts are 5 percent and 8 percent lower than forecast, respectively.

So while the good news for drivers is that roadside fuel options are cheaper than normal, the view for producers and production states like Oklahoma is that the typical increased demand of summer may not be playing out to help grow commodity values for oil and gas.

In fact, the market prices have slid significantly since the start of this summer, even dipping below $40 a barrel for the first time in nearly four months. Oil prices are now down more than 20 percent since hitting $51 a barrel just two months ago, making prices officially corrected in a “bear” market now.

And the horizon is drawing further concern that this oil glut will remain with gasoline inventories at record highs. Many market watchers are critical of America’s refineries for over-refining in the past few months, which may lead to further retraction in oil prices now as crude inventories and storage are further backed up with less demand coming from those very refineries soon. The typically historic expectations, like summer demand, seem to be absent in this new world for America’s oil and gas producers.

New impacts, such as Wall Street investors and large hedge funds, are seemingly playing an even more significant role than weather, driving demand and economic output, and all indications are that those bets may carry more sway than ever before.

In fact, according to Bloomberg’s analysis of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission statistics, money managers have raised their short positions this summer by the largest amount on record, going back to 2006. America’s hedge fund managers, emboldened by producers’ increased drilling activities – six weeks of increased nationwide rig counts – are largely betting against American oil.

So all of this is great news for American drivers, with national gasoline prices averaging $2.13 a gallon last week, compared with $2.66 at this point last year.

But to be honest, I would pay a bit more for my summer road trip if I thought it would put some Oklahomans back to work and send much needed school funding back into the classrooms. But if Wall Street behavior toward the Oil Patch is any indication of the months ahead, the famous line from Bette Davis in All About Eve feels more appropriate: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah PC in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Justice Antonin Scalia and the Clean Power Plan

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 22, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Justice Antonin Scalia and the Clean Power Plan

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death at the age of 79 leaves a vacancy on our nation’s highest court larger than one single person. In fact, it probably leaves a vacancy the size of many people, as the justice’s 29-year tenure certainly suggests.

English philosopher John Stuart Mill, a political economist, feminist and civil servant in the 19th century, probably wouldn’t have agreed much with our late Justice Scalia, but one of his quotes seems a foreshadow of the impact of just such a man:

“One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests.”

Justice Scalia certainly was a man of firm beliefs. He has long been described as the “intellectual anchor for the originalist and textualist position” of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative wing. It was Scalia’s consistent belief that the U.S. Constitution provided clear lines of separation among the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial.

This rigidity was evident in his approach to three decades of opinions, including those cases involving America’s energy and environmental issues.

Just this month, Scalia joined the majority in an unusual move to grant a judicial stay on the regulatory efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Clean Power Plan, which prior to the stay seemed on its own path for review on the merits at the D.C. Circuit Court level, then likely headed to the Supreme Court for review.

However, the SCOTUS stay halts states’ implementation of the final rule requiring states to develop plans to limit carbon emissions from the power sector in the coming years, with a deadline of September.

Now the fate of the Clean Power Plan, albeit delayed in time, is likely going to land in the hands of a different Supreme Court in the coming years. The issues being debated in the Clean Power Plan case – EPA authority, congressional actions within the Clean Air Act, states’ rights, citizens’ health and environmental protections – will be an early test for a new, possibly rebalanced SCOTUS.

In most every opportunity, Scalia strongly opposed the idea of a living Constitution, the notion that the judiciary can revisit the meaning of constitutional provisions in applying the facts of modern times. He believed instead that those laws must be viewed in their historical context, as they would have been understood at the time they were drafted.

Only time will tell if his viewpoints, beliefs and work-product legacy will receive the same frozen-in-time approach, or whether his beliefs live beyond the life of the believer.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah PC in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

What’s a nation to do?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on Nov. 23, 2015.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Warning: The following column may contain offensive or disturbing ideas to your otherwise pre-conceived notions of safety.

We Americans pride ourselves on our democracy, and for good reason: It’s the best system of governance, full of individual liberties and freedoms, known to have ever existed on planet Earth. We know we are a system of governance in which all people are collectively involved in making decisions about our government’s affairs, yet we probably think that group exercise only happens on election days and then we go back to our otherwise individual lives.

Yet, beyond the obvious shared public road that one may drive to get to that polling place, most Americans overlook the greatest socialistic aspects of all of our daily lives: electricity.

We are the second largest total consumer of electricity of any country in the world, second only to China. The U.S. ranks seventh in actual energy consumption per-capita after Canada and a few smaller nations. The enormous amount of electricity available in this country is perhaps one of the greatest ways we are connected as a nation. That connectedness is both a strength and weakness.

From an economic standpoint, America’s socialized grid provides energy across each state and into most every American home and business at a cost that many otherwise couldn’t afford to do on our own. Oklahomans (as energy producers) at 7.54 cents per kilowatt hour pay slightly less than the regional average and a good deal less than the national average of 9.84 cents/kWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The electricity sector includes a huge system of generation, transmission and distribution, from both public and private entities, producing and balancing power across the national grid, essentially from a large power plant somewhere all the way to your back yard meter and into your home. This happens each hour of each day, typically without incident or interruption, sans the occasional winter ice storm.

Yet, this massive grid is also perhaps one of the greatest vulnerabilities to your family’s safety and to America’s homeland security. That’s why, since the attacks of 9/11, American utilities, co-ops, transmission organizations and others along this supply chain have been investing billions of dollars, at a cost to each of us, to provide safety and security measures to prevent against a terrorist attack of our electric system. So far so good, but the attacks are underway.

U.S. law enforcement officials recently announced proof that ISIL/ISIS is beginning to launch cyberattacks against the grid, but perhaps because they aren’t yet using the latest hacking tools they haven’t been successful to date. According to a new book by former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath,” America has long known that the Russian and Chinese governments have penetrated our electric system and have the ability to wreak havoc today.

It’s likewise understood that agents of our government are currently inside those countries’ systems, and perhaps others, with the same ability to disrupt, impact their economies and their citizens’ lives. But between countries, perhaps there is some comfort in the notion of mutually assured destruction. With roving, non-nation actors like ISIL, there is less predictability and perhaps less prevention.

Some predictions (from sources like the CIA) about surgical grid attacks suggest that even a very small and unsophisticated attack could plunge parts of America into darkness, for prolonged periods of time, without heat, cooling and water systems, thereby creating massive risk of death from disease, starvation, exposure or violence caused by social breakdown.

So what’s a nation to do? Continue to invest, continue to protect, continue to be vigilant, continue to grow awareness and perhaps begin to become less-socialized in that massive vulnerability. Our future resilience against these growing threats may come from our ability to plan, cope and create a new system of mini grids, distributed grids or even a purposeful deployment of individual and community-based distributed generation. Distributed generation is power generation at the point of consumption, such as a small-scale wind turbine at your business or a roof-top solar installation on your home.

Self-reliance has always been an American ideal and virtue and it most likely is also going to be a key part of national security in our creation and consumption of energy. Stay safe.

 

Attorney Monica Ybarra featured in The Journal Record

Monica thumb

Monica Y. Ybarra is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of commercial litigation matters.

Phillips Murrah attorney Monica Y. Ybarra was featured in an article in The Journal Record titled, “Raising the bar: Law firm success includes developing talent, not just hiring the best.”

The article is about hiring practices within law firms:

OKLAHOMA CITY – Cultivating excellence at a law firm goes beyond hiring smart talent. Experts said developing legal leaders is about recruiting and molding well-rounded attorneys.

“The most successful firms that I’ve seen have exposed their associates to a variety of different aspects within the firm,” said Patrick Fuller, a former legal consultant. “It’s having a strong on-boarding process that incorporates the new attorney into the firm on a variety of different matters.”

The portion that features Monica is below:

Attorney Monica Ybarra, who was hired a year ago at Phillips Murrah, said she was drawn to the firm because of its size and culture.

“As a brand-new person coming out of law school who doesn’t know anything, that’s very attractive to me because I feel like I can learn from experts who know what they are doing,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra said she believes it’s important to work in an environment where she is able to learn from experts about many types of law and where she feels comfortable asking questions.

“Here I feel like everyone just works together as a team,” she said. “It wasn’t like that in other firms where I worked at.”

Ybarra said guidance from her supervising attorney has helped her progress and gain experience in her areas of interest.

Click here to see the entire article at JournalRecord.com.

Director Juston Givens featured in article on law firm diversity

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Juston R. Givens is a director and shareholder of the firm. Juston represents a diverse group of individuals and businesses covering a wide range of industries, from construction to agriculture to entertainment.

Phillips Murrah Director Juston Givens was featured in the Journal Record as a source in an article by journalist Molly M. Fleming.

Titled “Hot commodities: Tax, tribal law attorneys among most-desired legal specialties,” the cover story is about the difficulty in filling attorney positions for specialized fields.

From the article:

In Oklahoma City, Phillips Murrah recruiting head Juston R. Givens said the biggest specialty in which they have trouble hiring is corporate mergers and securities. But diversity in knowledge is important to his firm as well.

“It helps the legal industry any time you can add diverse backgrounds and communities,” he said.

Read the full article here.