A court has ordered New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to turn over documents related to a multistate confidentiality agreement on climate change investigations.
New York Acting Supreme Court Justice Henry F. Zwack ruled that Mr. Schneiderman has 30 days to comply with the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s May 5 request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
The Democratic prosecutor, who launched last year a probe into ExxonMobil, has fought the request for any pact made with other states or certain environmental activists, arguing that such documents are exempt from disclosure.
Sam Kazman, general counsel for the free market institute, called the court’s decision “a blow to the anti-speech campaign led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.”
“While the campaign by him and his cohorts that began in March continues against those who disagree with him on global warming, we are glad to see that it is being held subject to the basic laws of the land,” Mr. Kazman said in a Monday statement.
“By requiring Schneiderman to fully comply with our freedom of information request, the court is ensuring that agencies cannot use shortcuts as a means of skirting New York’s Freedom of Information law,” he said.
In June, a member of Mr. Schneiderman’s staff denied the request on the grounds that it pertained to an active investigation, adding that a copy of the agreement had already been posted online by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, thus rendering the issue moot.
In his Nov. 22 ruling, however, Justice Zwack said that the rejection of the institute’s request “was nothing more than a parroting of statutory language, and thus a complete failure in its obligation ‘to fully explain in writing … the reason for the denial of access.”
He added that it was unclear how many documents are involved given that Mr. Schneiderman’s staff had initially referred to “records responsible to your request” and later identified “only one document potentially responsive to the request.”
The justice also ordered Mr. Schneiderman’s office to pay attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the case.
Mr. Schneiderman has subpoenaed Exxon, and part of his probe looks into whether the company deceived consumers and shareholders over the extent and impact of climate change.
Seventeen attorneys general — 16 Democrats and one independent — signed the agreement in April and May after announcing in March they would work together on pursuing fossil fuel companies and climate dissenters.
The CEI has accused the Democrat-led coalition of attempting to hide its investigation behind the common interest agreement, which declares any shared information retains “all applicable privileges and claims to confidentiality.”