- Associated Press - Sunday, October 22, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Washington-based nonprofit group seeking access to private emails of retired Vermont attorney general William Sorrell is looking for information to prove that Sorrell conspired with other Democratic attorneys general colleagues to conduct a politically motivated investigation into Exxon Mobil’s position on climate change.

The Energy and Environment Legal Institute is seeking access to private emails that will show that Sorrell and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman used their public offices to attack people and corporations over their opinions on climate change, said Institute attorney Matthew Hardin.

“There were several states attorneys general that decided to investigate people who didn’t agree with their opinion of how global warming works,” Hardin told The Associated Press. “So we decided to file these public records requests to see what is going on in Vermont and why they are investigating political opponents for things that are not violations of criminal law.”

Sorrell said he became a focus of the institute’s legal efforts after he took part in a 2016 meeting of a number of state attorneys general in New York along with former Vice President Al Gore and then participated in a news conference along with Democratic colleague New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others.

Schneiderman is investigating whether Exxon Mobil misled the company’s investors and the public about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. Schneiderman has since been accused by the fossil fuel industry of politically motived investigations.

“I stood up very publicly and said I believe global warming is real and… I believe the scientists that human behavior is certainly a causative factor and questions about Exxon Mobil or other companies are interesting and worthy of at least consideration,” Sorrell said.

Sorrell said he did not call for an investigation.

Schneiderman’s spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said this is just the latest effort “to distract negative attention from the fossil fuel companies who fund E&E;’s endless stream of baseless litigation against independent public prosecutors.”

In the Vermont legal case, the institute claimed victory after Vermont Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout ordered Sorrell to appear for a deposition in a case in which it is seeking information about public business Sorrell might have conducted through his private Gmail account.

Vermont’s current Attorney General T.J. Donovan, a Democrat, also claimed a victory, saying Teachout’s ruling is a victory for the privacy rights of state employees because the deposition would only focus on the possible existence of certain emails, not the content of any messages.

“State business is state business,” said Donovan whose office is representing Sorrell in the legal case. “You don’t get carte blanche to go on a fishing expedition of somebody’s private email on a hunch that there’s something there. There’s got to be a threshold.”

Donovan and Sorrell, also a Democrat, declined to comment on the reasons for the institute’s public records requests.

The institute, whose website says “Free Market Environmentalism Through Strategic Litigation,” is clear in what it is seeking and why.

Mr. Sorrell was co-ringleader, along with New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a ‘climate-RICO’ scandal and the records we seek are essential in determining the level of his involvement and to what extent, if any, he may have violated the law,” the group said in a Wednesday news release, using the short-hand term for the federal law known as the Rocketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is frequently used to prosecute organized crime.


This story has been corrected to show Eric Schneiderman’s spokeswoman’s last name is Spitalnick, not Spitalinick.

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