The Virgina Supreme Court on Friday tossed out an investigation by the state’s conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli (pictured at right), into Michael Mann, the former University of Virginia climatologist whose work on the now-famous hockey-stick graph (originally published in Nature) has become a lightning rod for climate skeptics as well as the subject of a new book.
Cuccinelli’s pursuit of Mann, now at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, dates back nearly two years to the controversy surrounding climate e-mails that were illegally leaked from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Cuccinelli served the University of Virginia (UVA) with the equivalent of subpoenas, demanding documentation as well as access to Mann’s e-mail records. Although subsequent investigations have cleared the scientist of alleged wrong-doing, Cuccinelli argued that Mann might have manipulated data and thus defrauded the government in applying for scientific grants.
In a dense and conflicted 26-page ruling (pdf) covering a century and a half of case law — including references to kings as well as modern “functional incongruities” that divided the judges themselves — Virginia’s high court ruled that the university is not a “person” and thus is not subject to Cuccinelli’s demands under the state’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. The Union of Concerned Scientists praised the decision as well as UVA for standing up to the attorney general on behalf of Mann and the academic community. For his part, Cuccinelli lamented the decision and then announced that he would move to drop a second related case that is pending in the lower courts.
With two down, Mann and UVA can now focus on a third lawsuit filed by the conservative American Tradition Institute. This case, however, focuses on the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Mann won an initial ruling allowing him to join the lawsuit and defend himself alongside UVA back in November, but the case is still pending before the Prince William County Circuit Court.
Photo: Attorney General of Virginia