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Former U.-Va. president urges Cuccinelli court challenge

Rosalind Helderman

Of all the signatories of all the various letters circulated about Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's civil investigative demand for documents related to the work of climate scientist Michael Mann, this name might spark some particular interest: Robert M. O'Neil.

O'Neil is one of 39 professors at the University of Virginia Law School who signed on to a letter Tuesday to University Rector John O. Wynne, urging the Board of Visitors to fight Cuccinelli's subpoena in court. O'Neil is the Director of the

We spoke to O'Neil in the first days after Cuccinelli's subpoena seeking documents that might show Mann committed fraud when he sought grants for his research and at that time, O'Neil sounded a cautious note, saying he needed to the study the issue more closely.

But it looks like he's now decided where he stands. O'Neil was also just recently named general counsel of the American Association of University Professors, which was one of the first national groups to weigh in on Cuccinelli's subpoena.

The letter from the law professors is interesting as well because, unlike many other missives sent in recent days on this issue, it is aimed at the university visitors and not at Cuccinelli.

The legal eagles offer their opinion that university has grounds to fight in court against the CID, which was issued under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. They cite two Supreme Court decisions that talk about the importance of academic freedom as a first amendment right.

"At a minimum, there is ample reason for asking a court to determine its legality. And there is certainly an ethical reason to do so. Without the unflinching support of the University and its leadership, individual scholars can feel no confidence that they will be shielded from political interference," they write.

In a brief interview today, Cuccinelli did not seem too concerned about the reaction of academics or the possibility of a legal challenge. He said he had signed off on a plan by the Board of Visitors to hire outside counsel to handle a possible legal challenge. He noted that he gave the university free reign to bring in whatever firm they wished.

"Academia is liberal," he said of the reaction of professors. "They oppose everything I do. They're hypersenstive about anything dealing with the university. And so am I. I'm a U.-Va. graduate. But the same laws and rules on fraud apply to taxpayer dollars flowing through universities as through any other state agency. That's the standard that this will be reviewed on.

"I don't actually expect me to able to say, no, no, don't worry and for them to stop worrying," he continued. "That's just the way of the world. I accept it and move on and do my job as objectively and correctly as I can."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  May 19, 2010; 1:53 PM ET
Categories:  Ken Cuccinelli , Rosalind Helderman  
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Next: Cuccinelli reiterates U.-Va. subpoena is about fraud, not climate change politics


The letter says there are plenty of checks on academic quality, but nowhere did UVa initiate them. What steps did they take internally to head off this external investigation?

Should be some interesting quotes, in context.

Posted by: blasmaic | May 21, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

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