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Get an Errant Email? AAPL Rules of Honesty Still Apply

Featured in Landman, November/December 2018 

Following is an actual case that came before the AAPL Ethics Committee. (Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals and companies.)

DEAR CHAIRMAN:
With deep regret and after much personal deliberation, I hereby file a complaint against Rhett Butler of Atlanta for violation of AAPL’s Code of Ethics. I allege and accuse Mr. Butler of blatantly and knowingly violating Article XVI – Code of Ethics, Sections 1 and 2.

Mr. Butler’s actions as detailed below are dishonest and an embarrassment to the energy industry, AAPL and its members. Through his association with Butler Inc., Rhett Butler accessed an email not intended for him and then disclosed and attempted to use the confidential information to gain financial benefit for himself.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Dec. 30, 1999: I entered into a Master Land Services Contract with a Savannah, Georgia-based production company. This company will hereafter be referred to as “The Company.”

January 2000: I subcontracted with Scarlett O’Hara to provide land services under the MLSC with The Company. Ms. O’Hara informed me that she had formerly contracted with Butler Inc. in 1994.

May 1, 2000: The Company requested that I travel to Fulton County, Georgia, and file documents for recording. In speaking with The Company, I was told they were selling acreage in the
area and I was granted nonexclusive oral permission to locate a buyer.

June 2, 2000: I requested a map from The Company to share with Ms. O’Hara that would show the location of the acreage to be sold. I removed details from The Company map and obscuredthe exact location of the leasehold interest with large, distinct yellow balloons. I attached the map to a blank email and sent it to Ms. O’Hara. She then sent the map to an associate of hers, Charles Hamilton, who thought he might know of a buyer for the acreage. 

July 10, 2000: Mr. Hamilton set up a meeting with Rhett Butler, who claimed to have a buyer that might be interested in the acreage. At Mr. Hamilton’s request, Mr. Butler emailed the map of his “client’s” buy area. Mr. Hamilton realized the map was identical to the map I had created and emailed to Ms. O’Hara and subsequently to himself. Mr. Hamilton immediately contacted
Ms. O’Hara and me. I began searching my email and email settings for any hidden links. Ms. O’Hara did the same. The original email from myself to Ms.O’Hara was blank and only contained the map as an attachment. Ms. O’Hara discovered an old email setting that automatically forwards a copy of all incoming mail to her to the old Butler Inc. account from 1994. I contacted Mr. Butler by telephone and asked how he acquired the confidential map. He first denied any knowledge of the map, but when confronted with our facts,
Mr. Butler immediately terminated the phone conversation.

I believe Mr. Butler inappropriately sought to disclose confidential information mistakenly sent to the old Butler Inc. email account for his personal financial benefit and, in doing so, violated
AAPL’s Code of Ethics.

India Wilkes
The Wind Energy LLC

ETHICS COMMITTEE FINDINGS
Mr. Butler violated the AAPL Code of Ethics Sections 1 and 2:

“It shall be the duty of the Land Professional at all times to promote and, in a fair and honest manner, represent theindustry to the public at large with the view of establishing and maintaining goodwill between the industry and the public and among industry parties.”

Mr. Butler’s actions destroyed any sense of goodwill.

“Competition among those engaged in the mineral and energy industries shall be kept at a high level with careful adherence to established rules of honesty and courtesy.”

Mr. Butler’s actions were blatantly dishonest and dishonorable.

ACTION AUTHORIZED
After due consideration of the facts, further investigation and an opportunity for hearing, Mr. Butler was found guilty of violating Article XVI – Code of Ethics, Sections 1 and 2. Mr. Butler was expelled as an AAPL member. Notice of the action was provided to the membership through publication in the Landman magazine.