The Competitive Enterprise Institute asked a federal court Monday to fine the Virgin Islands Attorney General over his investigation into the free-market nonprofit’s climate-change dissent after he agreed to withdraw his subpoena.
The CEI is seeking “attorneys’ fees and other sanctions” from Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker for a violation of the District of Columbia’s law forbidding legal actions intended to chill free speech.
The request filed in District of Columbia Superior Court came after an attorney working with Mr. Walker told the CEI in a Friday letter that the District of Columbia subpoena would be pulled within the next five days.
At the same time, Cohen Milstein attorney Linda Singer said that Mr. Walker may decide to reissue the subpoena if he “intends to move to compel your client’s compliance with the subpoena in its current form.”
CEI President Kent Lassman called the warning of further legal action an “illegal threat hanging over our head.”
“We think this was a totally outrageous action that took up quite a bit of our time and resources,” CEI general counsel Sam Kazman said of the subpoena received April 7. “For the Virgin Islands Attorney General to come in and say, ‘Oh, never mind,’ is not going to cut it.”
Mr. Walker, one of 17 attorneys general involved with AGs United for Clean Power, subpoenaed the institute to gain a decade’s worth of communications and research on climate change as part of a racketeering investigation into possible “fraud.”
As of Monday, the subpoena had not yet been withdrawn, prompting the CEI to file a request for the court to dismiss the subpoena, arguing that it violates laws designed to counter Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation [SLAPP].
“Attorney General Walker’s subpoena of us is an outrageous violation of our First Amendment rights, and its sole purpose is to shut down debate,” Mr. Kazman said. “Mr. Walker’s statement that he will end his D.C. court action, but may launch a new one whenever the mood strikes him, is the height of arrogance and demonstrates that he still doesn’t recognize the harm he has unlawfully inflicted.”
In her letter, Ms. Singer defended the Virgin Islands subpoena, saying it was aimed at unearthing potential fraud, and “it is well established that ‘the First Amendment does not shield fraud.’”
“Furthermore, this subpoena neither restricts CEI’s speech nor compels speech — it simply seeks the production of documents related to an investigation that is not targeting CEI, as the Attorney General previous explained,” Ms. Singer said.
Mr. Walker launched in March an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil had engaged in racketeering by working with other organizations to challenge catastrophic climate-change scenarios. He and 16 other attorneys general have formed a coalition aimed at pursuing fraud allegations against fossil-fuel companies and their supporters.
His subpoena of CEI requested documents related to climate change from 1997 to 2007. Exxon announced that it had stopped funding free-market advocacy groups in 2007.
“This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate,” the CEI said in a Monday press release.