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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 01/19/2011

Push-back for Cuccinelli

By Peter Galuszka

Finally, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is getting some push-back against his grandstanding legal fishing trips.

Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) are seeking legislative limits on what the attorney general can do, with an eye toward Cuccinelli's publicity-grabbing hounding of Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia professor whose global warming views don't align with conservative orthodoxy.

Another bill from Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) would shield academic work from civil investigative demands that are intended to ferret out fraudulent work by state employees. Cuccinelli is seeking hundreds of e-mails through such CIDs as he tries to probe the work done by Mann, who otherwise has been cleared of any questions about the integrity of his state-funded research.

McEachin and Toscano want a judge to review such lawsuits before the attorney general can issue subpoenas.

The bills may get through the Senate but face certain death in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.

There are a couple of ways to view these efforts. One is to applaud them, because politically-motivated prosecutors such as Cuccinelli badly need some kind of outside control. Without this, a whole lot more than just academic freedom could be threatened.

Yet care is also needed. There are cases in which the attorney general needs to be alert and aggressive in pursuing wrongdoing. Take the example of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, whose office when he was attorney general in 2006 seemingly ignored evidence of one of the biggest scandals in the state in recent years involving a former state finance secretary who later got 10 years for self-dealing in funds from a state tobacco settlement.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to whom the public elects as attorney general and how that individual views his or her job, goals and integrity.

It could be that Cuccinelli really believes he's serving the public by hounding Mann and the University of Virginia. But he's also shamelessly promoting himself to the right-wing fringe, costing taxpayers unnecessary money and placing dark clouds over the reputations of Virginia universities as they try to do research.

Who's ultimately to blame for that? The Virginia voter.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | January 19, 2011; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, crime, education, energy, environment, public health, taxes, weather  
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The bills proposed will apply to far more than the individual civil investigative demands sent by AG Cuccinelli to UVA. They will hinder future AG's from investigating fraud as well.

Under McEachin's bills the AG merely has to have a lawusit pending to issue a subpoena (instead of a CID), the AG does not need to get approval from a judge first.

More commentary located at

Posted by: ppradoslaw | January 19, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

You forget that Mann was paid by the citizens of Virginia to conduct his research. It's not his academic freedom that is being threatened so much as it is his paycheck.

The statute under which the AG is pursuing Mann was written expressly to prevent the fraudulent misrepresentation of study data paid for at taxpayer expense. Mann is suspected of manipulating the data in his study, producing the infamous "hockey stick" graph of global warming.

This is not an academic witch hunt, it's more like "show me the money."

Posted by: dmarney | January 19, 2011 7:04 PM | Report abuse

1. Who reasonably suspects Prof. Mann of falsifying data while being paid by the State? If the Professor's work has been cleared, then he might be wrong in his conclusions, but being wrong does not constitute misuse of State funds.

2. The abuse of search and seizure power by using the search itself as an instrument of oppression was a central problem of the colonists' opposition to the King's Writs of Assistance. They solved that problem, they thought, via something we now call the American Revolution.

3. Just to make sure that the problem was really solved, we later passed the Fourth Amendment, from which Mr. Cuccinelli might profit by reading. This provides: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

4. Just to make sure that all this really took, the Fourth Amendment was made binding on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

5. Can Ken Cuccinelli swear to the elements of probable cause? If not, is he willing to violate the Constitution in pursuing his quest for popularity using the color of state law to do so?

Posted by: lericgoodman | January 19, 2011 10:25 PM | Report abuse

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