The Washington Times - August 11, 2011, 04:16PM

Four groups have written a letter to University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan expressing concern that UVa. may turn over protected records to a conservative group seeking documents related to climatologist Michael Mann.

The university had agreed to turn over documents requested by the American Tradition Institute Environmental Law Center in January as part of a Prince William County circuit court judge’s ruling in May.

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“We hope the university will modify its agreement with ATI to adequately protect the privacy of scientists involved and uphold the principles of academic freedom which you have previously articulated,” reads the letter from the American Association of University Professors, the American Geophysical Union, Climate Science Watch, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A judge ruled that the University must turn over 9,000 pages of documents it believes are not exempt from disclosure to ATI by around August 20. The group has also won the right to look at all the requested documents, even private ones.

“If ATI gets to look at all these documents, even if they’re under a gag order, that sends a pretty chilling message to researchers,” said Aaron Huertas, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In May, university spokeswoman Carol Wood said the university has been in “frequent and regular contact” with ATI lawyers to clarify their request and work out a “reasonably manageable process” to satisfy the state’s public information law.

ATI, Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, and Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a global warming skeptic, have been in hot pursuit of records related to Mr. Mann, who is behind the infamous “hockey stick” graph that documents a rapid rise in the earth’s temperature during the 20th century. Mr. Mann, now at Penn State University, has been widely cleared of academic misconduct.

A judge last year had quashed Mr. Cuccinelli’s bid to obtain the documents through subpoena-like demands under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. He appealed the judge’s ruling in a case now before the state Supreme Court, and also re-filed a new demand in response to the ruling.