The University of Virginia (UVA) decided yesterday to fight Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's subpoena of documents related to Michael Mann, a climate scientist who worked at the state school from 1999 to 2005. The Washington Post reports that the latest turn in the struggle—a fight in which 800 scientists across the state sided with UVA—breaks new legal ground. Mann is now a professor at Pennsylvania State University, where one panel cleared him of wrongdoing in an initial investigation of Mann's role in a series of hacked e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Another panel is investigating other aspects of his climate work. From the Post today:
Although Virginia universities have at times tangled with political leaders in Richmond, several experts said legal action is a rare challenge by a public institution of the state's top law enforcement officer. It comes in response to the equally unusual action of a state attorney general using the legal process to compel his own client to produce documents.
Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand, essentially a subpoena, under a 2002 state statute designed to catch government employees defrauding the public out of tax dollars.
"It's a rarity, and it should not happen often," said former attorney general Jerry Kilgore (R). "The universities are state agencies, and they're your clients. And attorneys general do everything they can to avoid being on opposite sides of their clients."
Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University [in Fairfax, Virginia], called the conflict an "extraordinary situation" and one that will be closely followed by First Amendment scholars nationally.
Cuccinelli has sought information about five grant applications Mann prepared before leaving the university, as well as all e-mail between Mann and his research assistants, secretaries and 39 other scientists across the country.