- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2012

The Virginia Supreme Court on Friday rejected a bid by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II to acquire records about a former University of Virginia climatologist.

Mr. Cuccinelli, under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, issued two civil investigative demands (CID), akin to subpoenas, in 2010 seeking records related to Michael Mann, who is associated with the infamous “hockey stick” global warming graph charting a rapid rise in the temperature of the earth’s surface during the 20th century.

Despite allegations that Mr. Mann and his colleagues manipulated data based on emails leaked in the so-called “Climategate” scandal in late 2009, Mr. Mann, who is now at Penn State, has been widely cleared of any academic misconduct.

In August 2010, an Albemarle County Circuit judge said that Mr. Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic, was not specific enough in stating what Mr. Mann had done wrong and that he lacked the authority to seek information related to federal grants. So Mr. Cuccinelli then appealed the decision and narrowed his inquiry to one state grant worth $214,000.

But the Virginia Supreme Court in a Friday opinion concluded that Mr. Cuccinelli does not have the authority to issue the demands to the University of Virginia at all.

“Because the statute does not give the Attorney General authority to issue CIDs to UVA, all other issues are rendered moot,” wrote Justice Leroy F. Millette Jr.

The attorney general’s office will now move to dismiss the case still pending in Albemarle County Circuit Court.

“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,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “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.”

Michael Halpern, program manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Program, hailed the court’s decision.

“We applaud the high court for reaffirming that Mr. Cuccinelli didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in his pursuit of Mann’s and other scientists’ private correspondence,” he said. “The university should be commended for its courage in standing up to the attorney general to ensure Virginia will remain a safe place for scientific research, even when elected officials don’t like the results.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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