Rights Groups Ask Court to Reject AG’s Demand for Records of University of Virginia Climate Science Professor

Amicus brief supports university’s efforts to protect academic freedom

Oral arguments in case to take place in Charlottesville on Friday

Charlottesville, VA–Four defenders of academic freedom have joined forces to file an amicus brief asking a Virginia judge to set aside a demand from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for documents related to the research of a global warming expert once employed by UVA.

Signing the amicus brief, filed today in Albemarle County Circuit Court, are the ACLU of Virginia, American Association of University Professors, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Cuccinelli, whose opposition to global warming theories is well known, created a public stir earlier this year when he sought records from UVA related to the communications and research of former professor Michael Mann, a widely published proponent of global warming theory.  Among the broad range of records sought were emails that Mann sent to and received from colleagues since 1999.

After learning of Cuccinelli’s demand for information on Mann and reading media reports indicating that UVA was inclined to comply, the American Association of University Professors and the ACLU of Virginia urged university officials to exercise their right to oppose the demand.  (See ACLU/AAUP letter at http://www.acluva.org/publications/20100506ACLUAAUPUVALtr.pdf.)

In late May, lawyers from UVA filed papers in court arguing that the attorney general does not have the authority to demand the records and private communications of a college professor without justification.  Today’s amicus brief supports UVA’s position.

“If the court permits the attorney general to gain access to the private communications among scientists whenever he disagrees with their ideas, the scientists will simply stop sharing their ideas,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.  “The chilling effect on academic freedom and scientific inquiry is incalculable.”

Cuccinelli is attempting to use the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to access Mann’s records.  Under the VFTA, the attorney general may issue a “Civil Investigative Demand” for information related to acts of fraud against the state, but he must first have “reason to believe” that an act of fraud has been committed and must assert the nature of the conduct under investigation.  Lawyers for UVA have argued that the attorney general has not met either of those conditions.  (See UVA’s brief at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/20100527UVACuccinelliFiling.pdf.)

A copy of the amicus brief filed today is available online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/08-17-10.pdf.

Arguments on UVA’s petition to set aside the attorney general’s demands are scheduled to take place this Friday, August 20, at 2:00 p.m. in the Albemarle Circuit Court in Charlottesville.

CONTACTS:

ACLU of Virginia
804-644-8022
Kent Willis, Executive Director
Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director

American Association of University Professors
202-737-5900
Rachel Levinson, Senior Counsel
Kathi Westcott, Associate Counsel

Union of Concerned Scientists
202-331-5452
Michael Halpern, Scientific Integrity Program Manager