An Albemarle County judge has dismissed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s demand that the University of Virginia turn over documents related to the research of a prominent climate change expert.
Cucinelli, however, quickly promised to press on with his investigation. The vocal climate change skeptic has been probing the possibility that climatology professor Michael Mann fraudulently obtained five taxpayer-funded research grants while employed at UVa between 1999 and 2005.
In an opinion issued this morning, Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli failed to show a sufficient “reason to believe” that UVa possessed any documents related to Mann that suggested a fraud occurred.
UVa fought Cuccinelli’s demand for documents, saying the attorney general’s investigation violates the principle of academic freedom and would have a chilling effect on scientific research of controversial subjects.
In his ruling, Peatross set aside Cuccinelli’s civil investigative demands “in their entirety, without prejudice to the Commonwealth to proceed according to the law.”
Cuccinelli did not show, Peatross wrote, any evidence that Mann’s work was “misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Peatross added, however, that the attorney general is within his rights to issue CIDs — which carry the legal weight of subpoenas — to investigate taxpayer-funded research grants awarded to professors such as Mann.
Cuccinelli said in a statement that he will send a new CID to UVa to continue his hunt for proof that Mann defrauded Virginia’s taxpayers in obtaining grants that funded his climate change research.
“While this was not an outright ruling in our favor, I am pleased that the judge has agreed with my office on several key legal points and has given us a framework for issuing a new civil investigative demand to get the information necessary to continue our investigation into whether or not fraud has been committed against the commonwealth,” Cuccinelli said.
A UVa spokeswoman said a statement on Peatross’ ruling will be forthcoming.
Mann, who now works at Penn State, said he is “very pleased” the judge set aside Cuccinelli’s subpoenas.
“It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests,” Mann said in an e-mail to The Daily Progress. “I’m looking forward now to trying to get back full time to the things I really care about: doing research and extending the forefront of our scientific understanding of the science of climate and climate change, advising students and postdoctoral scholars, and doing the best I can to communicate to the public important scientific findings.”
Read the full story in Tuesday’s Daily Progress.