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Virginia House stops effort to curb Cuccinelli's powers in U.-Va. climate fight

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 7:51 PM

RICHMOND - The Virginia House of Delegates has halted an effort by Democratic lawmakers to curb the attorney general's power to issue subpoenas for academic work at state universities.

Democrats were attempting to curtail the authority of Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who has angered many academics by demanding that the University of Virginia turn over documents and e-mails related to the work of a former university climate scientist.

Cuccinelli issued the civil investigative demands under the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, designed to root out public corruption.

He has said he needs the documents to determine whether there is a case to be made that global-warming researcher Michael Mann knowingly skewed data as he sought publicly funded grants for his research.

Past investigations of Mann's work, including one conducted by Pennsylvania State University, where Mann has worked since 2005, have found no evidence that he falsified or suppressed data.

Faculty at U-Va. and beyond have supported Mann, arguing that Cuccinelli is targeting the professor because he does not believe in global warming.

"I think as an elected official, some of us want to stand up and say, 'You ought to not do that,' " said Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), who represents the university's home town.

A GOP-led House subcommittee voted Wednesday to table a bill sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) to shield universities from Cuccinelli's authority to issue civil subpoenas, ending the Democrats' effort for this year's legislative session.

The action was widely expected because House Republicans had said they opposed efforts to limit the attorney general's ability to investigate fraud.

"The attorney general is an independent official, elected by all the people of Virginia," said Del. C.L. "Clay" Athey Jr. (R-Warren). "I think once you start going down this path, it may be a path that both sides of the aisle regret."

A spokesman for Cuccinelli applauded the vote. "The bill would have created two classes in Virginia - universities and their employees and everybody else," said Brian Gottstein.

U-Va. has been fighting Cuccinelli's inquiry in court, in a tussle between the state's top lawyer and one of his own clients.

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