Democrats sponsor bills to curb Cuccinelli
A trio of Democratic legislators is sponsoring bills to curb the power of Virginia's attorney general to issue civil subpoenas under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
The legislation is designed to limit inquiries like the one Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) is pursuing at the University of Virginia, where he has used the act to send civil investigative demands asking for documents and e-mails related to the work of a former university climate scientist.
Under current law, the attorney general can request documents to determine whether an investigation into whether public employees have defrauded the public is warranted. Cuccinelli has said he wants the university records to see whether he should launch an investigation into the work of global warming scientist Michael Mann.
Academics have defended Mann, who has worked at Penn State University since 2005. They believe Cuccinelli is unfairly targeting the scientist because he does not agree with the results of his research, which has shown that the earth has experienced rapid, recent warming. Several investigations, including one conducted by Penn State, have cleared Mann of wrongdoing.
But Cuccinelli says the university is subject to the law and the documents would help him decide whether Mann used public grant money appropriately.
A bill sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) would shield academic work at universities from being subject to civil investigative demands under the act by the attorney general. A broader effort sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin (D-Henrico) would require that the attorney general first file a lawsuit in court that can be reviewed by a judge before he is able to issue subpoenas under the act in civil cases.
"Jefferson would be turning in his grave to see what was coming from Richmond because of Attorney General Cuccinelli's efforts to capture private correspondence within faculty and staff at the University of Virginia," said Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), who is co-sponsoring the bill and whose district includes the university, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson. "If people are concerned about government intrusion into your private life, you ought to be very concerned about what the attorney general is attempting to do in this case."
Brian Turner, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon University who works with the American Association of University Professors, said the effect of Cuccinelli's request -- which seeks e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists and university staff -- has been to discourage researchers from around the world from working with Virginia academics.
The University has been fighting Cuccinelli's request in court. An Albemarle County judge quashed one version of the subpoena, ruling that Cuccinelli had not properly explained his rationale for believing fraud may have been committed. But Cuccinelli reissued the request and the issue remains in litigation.
In his reissued Civil Investigative Demand, the attorney general wrote that he seeks the documents because Mann wrote two papers on global warming that "have come under significant criticism" and that Mann "knew or should have known contained false information, unsubstantiated claims and/or were otherwise misleading."
"Specifically, but without limitation, some of the conclusions of the papers demonstrate a complete lack of rigor regarding the statistical analysis of the alleged data, meaning that the result reported lacked statistical significance without a specific statement to that effect," the new CID alleges.
This post has been modified since it was first published.
Rosalind S. Helderman
| January 18, 2011; 12:14 PM ET
Categories: Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman
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