The Washington Times - November 3, 2011, 12:29PM

A Prince William County Circuit Court judge has allowed climatologist Michael Mann to enter the legal fray over a conservative group’s pursuit of his emails and documents related to his work at the University of Virginia.

Judge Gaylord Finch on Monday also approved a request from the university to alter a protective order it had agreed to with the American Tradition Institute.

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Under the May order, the University agreed to turn over a set of documents it believed were not exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) within 90 days to ATI. The order was also to give ATI lawyers the right, under a gag order, to view documents the university believed were exempt for review.

ATI and Delegate Bob Marshall, Prince William Republican, had filed a FOIA request seeking documents, including emails, related to Mr. Mann, who is associated with the infamous “hockey stick” climate change graph charting a rapid increase in the temperature of the earth’s surface during the 20th century.

In a separate but similar case, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II filed civil investigative demands, akin to a subpoena, seeking records from the university to determine whether Mr. Mann defrauded Virginia taxpayers through seeking and obtaining grants. An Albemarle Circuit Court judge set aside the demands last year, but Mr. Cuccinelli has since appealed the ruling and filed a new demand in response.

In August, ATI lawyers received a disk from the university containing about 4,000 pages the university believed were not exempt, though the group claims that the university had indicated there were 9,000 such pages.

The group has argued that the university is dragging its feet in producing the emails, while the university has said it will produce all responsive, non-exempt records that are documents and will carefully review Mr. Mann’s email in order to protect what is legally exempt through FOIA.

Mr. Finch, though, approved the university’s request to alter the protective order, directing ATI and the university to designate a third party to select example e-mails that the group could potentially use in later legal arguments. If the two parties cannot agree by December 20, the court will select someone.

Dr. David Schnare, director of ATI’s Environmental Law Center, said that they “will make every effort” to identify a competent and fair third party to find examples.”

“We note some satisfaction that UVA has already adopted the basic approach ATI offered to the court as to how to select the samples and we will provide further suggestions that should ease the effort for the independent party who will take the next step in this case.”

Mr. Mann has been widely cleared of academic misconduct, including by the U.S. National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General.

“My research and methods have been a matter of public record for more than a decade, and our findings have repeatedly been reproduced and confirmed by other scientists, and validated by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,” Mr. Mann wrote in a recent email to The Washington Times. “No group has the right to access every single private email a scientist sends just as they have no right to root through a scientist’s physical mailbox.

“While the responsibility of UVA to comply with open records requests is indisputable, the university also has the responsibility to protect its employees’ privacy and maintain scientists’ ability to conduct research without fear of harassment,” said Michael Halpern, Scientific Integrity Program Manager at the University of Concerned Scientists.