The Virginia Supreme Court said Friday that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II does not have the authority to demand records related to a former University of Virginia climate researcher’s work.
In 2010, Cuccinelli (R), a global warming skeptic, issued a civil investigative demand, essentially a subpoena, for documents from the state’s flagship university.
He sought five grant applications prepared by former professor Michael Mann and all e-mails between Mann and his research assistants, secretaries and 39 other scientists from across the country.
But a judge dismissed the subpoena. Cuccinelli then filed a new, more specific demand pertaining to just one $214,700 state grant, but he also appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
In an unusual step, U-Va. hired its own attorney and fought back, arguing that the demand exceeds Cuccinelli's authority under state law and intrudes on the rights of professors to pursue academic inquiry free from political pressure.
Mann’s work has long been under attack by global warming skeptics, particularly after references to a statistical “trick” Mann used in his research surfaced in a series of leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Mann and others have said the e-mail was taken out of context.
Some of his methodologies have been criticized by other scientists, but several inquires have concluded that there was no evidence that Mann engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data.
Mann worked at U-Va. from 1999 to 2005. He now works at Penn State University.
“From the beginning, we have said that we were simply trying to review documents that are unquestionably state property to determine whether or not fraud had been committed,” Cuccinelli’s office said in an e-mailed response. “Today, the court effectively held that state agencies do not have to provide state-owned property to state investigators looking into potential fraud involving government funds.”
U-Va. and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This post has been updated since it was first published.