Virginia House kills effort to curb Cuccinelli's subpoena powers
The Virginia House of Delegates has halted an effort by Democratic lawmakers to prevent the attorney general from issuing subpoenas for academic work to state universities.
Democrats had been attempting to curtail the authority of controversial Attorney Gen. Ken T. Cuccinelli II (R), who has angered many academics by demanding that the University of Virginia turn over documents and emails related to the work of a former university climate scientist.
A GOP-led House subcommittee voted to table a bill sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) to shield universities from Cuccinelli's authority to issue civil subpoenas, ending the Democrats' effort for this year's legislative session. The action had been widely anticipated because House Republicans had said they opposed efforts to limit the attorney general's ability to investigate fraud.
"The attorney general is an independent official, elected by all the people of Virginia," said Del. C.L. "Clay" Athey Jr. (R-Warren). "I don't think it's proper for us to be limiting his powers, understanding that we're going to have different ideologies and different thinking...I think once you start going down this path, it may be a path that both sides of the aisle regret"
A spokesman for Cuccinelli applauded the vote.
"The bill would have created two classes in Virginia--universities and their employees and everybody else," said spokesman Brian Gottstein. "That just doesn't square with our system of equality and rule of law."
Cuccinelli issued the civil investigative demands under the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, designed to root out public corruption.
The law gives him the ability to issue subpoenas while still investigating whether there is reason to pursue fraud cases. He has said he needs the documents from the university because he wants to see whether global warming researcher Michael Mann knowingly skewed data as he sought publicly funded grants for his research.
Past investigations of Mann's work, including one conducted by Pennsylvania State University, where he has worked since 2005, have found no evidence Mann had falsified or suppressed data. Faculty at U.-Va. and beyond have supported Mann, arguing that Cuccinelli is targeting his research because the attorney general does not believe the earth is warming.
"There are a number of people out there who are academicians who do not embrace my view on climate change but are very concerned about what's happening in Virginia," said Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), who represents the university and believes that humans are causing global warming. "There are people who are critics of Dr. Mann's work but they think it's a huge problem for the attorney general to do what he's doing. I think as an elected official some of us want to stand up and say, you ought to not do that.
U-Va. has been fighting Cuccinelli's inquiry in court in an ongoing legal tussle between the state's top lawyer and one of his own clients.
Rosalind S. Helderman
| February 16, 2011; 5:45 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate
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