Ruling in Virginia alters climate-papers fight
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II says a judge’s order compelling the University of Virginia to turn over thousands of pages of climate-change research will likely alter his own battle for the long-sought documents.
The Republican attorney general and state Delegate Robert G. Marshall have battled the university for more than a year over the release of documents related to the work of former professor Michael Mann. Mr. Mann had been involved in a leaked email exchange with colleagues that climate-change skeptics claimed showed scientific misconduct.
Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, requested the documents through the Freedom of Information Act, while Mr. Cuccinelli subpoenaed them. Mr. Cuccinelli said an order issued May 24 in Prince William County Circuit Court that grants Mr. Marshall’s request could affect his own appeal to the state Supreme Court to reverse a previous ruling in favor of the university.
“It certainly can affect what we’re doing,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “If they essentially disgorge everything, there’s no cause for them to be going to court to try and cover it up.”
He said he plans to review the documents and “see how the process unfolds.”
“If, as and when we get copies of the stuff, we’ll see what’s responsive,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell what isn’t produced. You don’t see what isn’t there.”
The university has so far turned over 20 percent of the 9,000 pages of documents it says are responsive to a request from the American Tradition Insti- tute (ATI), a conservative-leaning, environmentally focused group that joined forces with Mr. Marshall in January. ATI filed a petition two weeks ago, saying the university had failed to respond to an information request filed early this year.
A judge has given the university until Aug. 22 to supply the rest of the documents. Mr. Marshall said he was pleased with the decision, but is skeptical the university will hand over everything he has requested.
“I want to look at what they’ve given us and examine what they’ve withheld and see why it’s been withheld,” Mr. Marshall told The Washington Times. “The more they stonewall, the more they’re making Richard Nixon look like a choirboy.”
University spokeswoman Carol Wood said the university has been in “frequent and regular contact” with ATI lawyers, working to clarify their request and work out a “reasonably manageable process” to satisfy the public information law.
Mr. Marshall enlisted ATI’s help after a year of pursuing the climate-change documents on his own. After submitting his first information request in December 2009, the university told him it no longer possessed the materials he requested. In response to a second request the following spring, he was told it would cost $8,500 to prepare the documents.
While state law allows public agencies to charge a reasonable sum to compensate for time and effort in meeting public information requests, Mr. Marshall and ATI said the university was charging an unreasonable sum. The court has yet to determine how much the university may charge to meet the request.
“This case is about whether the government can put up a pay wall to frustrate the public’s right to transparency,” said David Schnare, director of the ATI Environmental Law Center. “If it can, the public can’t hold government employees to the high standards of conduct they should meet.”
At the center of the storm: Professor Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center of the Meteorology Department at Penn State University.