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Earth The Courts News Science Politics

Judge Quashes Subpoena of UVA Research Records 293

esocid writes "An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann. Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena failed to state a 'reason to believe' that Mann had committed fraud. He also set aside the subpoena without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli can rewrite it to better explain why he wants to investigate, but seemed skeptical about the underlying claim of fraud. The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005. 'The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann's work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,' Peatross wrote. The ruling also limited Cuccinelli to asking about only one of the five grants issued, which was the only one using state funds."
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Judge Quashes Subpoena of UVA Research Records

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    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      They're not all bad...I know that the judges at our local courthouse (which is less than a mile away from our apartment...keeps crime down:-)) vary greatly.

      • So do the local ones around me. It'd be nice for a little more consistency.

      • In general, local politicians (not really the right term for a judge, I know) tend to be a bit easier to work with than the higher ups. I know a lot of the judges in local courts that I've visited/juried in/etc. tend to be very shrewd people who take their role as an arbiter of the law very seriously. Similarly, most city-council politicians I know tend to work very hard to keep in touch with their voter base and to enact seemingly sane policies. Politics and law at the local level tend to be pretty mild an
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Obfuscant ( 592200 )
          Similarly, most city-council politicians I know tend to work very hard to keep in touch with their voter base and to enact seemingly sane policies.

          In my experience, it's the city council politicians who run based on personal agenda and then push that agenda as much as they can while in office. They also know that they can pass all kinds of stupid "pronouncements" with little to no real meaning other than making themselves look great to the loudest nutcases, so they don't have to worry about what they pass

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by CronoCloud ( 590650 )

            It's an age/affluence thing. Around here, most city council/county board position holders are either semi-retired or have upper middle class/upper class jobs that they can give them plenty of leave/sabbaticals/time off. If you're say, an executive at a heavy equipment company, they'll give you whatever time you need, because they know you will favor their interests.

    • by QuantumLeaper ( 607189 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:46PM (#33420958) Journal
      Judges are not stupid, unlike a lot of people who think the Courts are an extension of the Political machine. People may appoint Judges for political reasons but they should never bow to those reasons.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I tend to agree. I'm a political junkie by nature, so take this with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that Judges do a good job of holding true to law. The big news going around about stem-cells has a lot of my peers -I work in a University- roiled, but let's face facts, if it's true that he ruled based on a 90s law that forbids stem cell research, then maybe it's time to change the law and not bend it? Same goes for this case, as it was for the big evolution case in PA where a conservative appointed

      • by Timothy Brownawell ( 627747 ) <> on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:55PM (#33422430) Homepage Journal

        People may appoint Judges for political reasons but they should never bow to those reasons.

        Yeah, that's why Judges should be appointed. But local ones tend to be elected, so they need to run for office every so often etc.

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:41PM (#33420908)

    If this is not a political prosecution, I don't know what is. As a Virginia taxpayer, I don't mind politicians bloviating, but I don't like them chewing up public resources to do so.

    • by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:29PM (#33421304)

      It comes down to suing researchers out of existance if their results conflict with a political stance

      This is beyond scary, it is a sign of America moving from a world leader in research to a has-been backwater

      • by Score Whore ( 32328 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:57PM (#33422042)

        Eh? It seems to me that it comes down to needing a subpoena in order to get access to a public employee's work product.

        If you want to talk scary, that's scary. Mann worked/works for public universities paid for with tax dollars. Explain why getting access to anything that he does while on tax payer time isn't as simple as saying "hey dude, can we see your work?"

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:51PM (#33422398)
          That's as sensible as going up to a road worker and asking to borrow his hammer to do some work back at your house. Sure, the hammer was bought with public funds, but that doesn't mean that the worker must give up his tools or that you have any right to them.

          The results of the work should be public. The ownership of the copyright/patent of the results should be public. That's the work product. And that's not what they are after. They have the work product. And they don't like it, so they want the notes and such leading up to the work product so they can invalidate it. And not because it's actually invalid, but because you can take incomplete anything and spin it to be invalid.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hellsbells ( 231588 )


          Can you access your local mayor's email account?
          Can you download the full schematics for the space shuttle?
          Why isn't your local police department's incident reporting system completely open source?

          I'm all for increased transparency, but there is no reason that all information from publicly funded work should be publicly available.

          - Overheads. The costs of doing this would be huge.
          - A lot of publicly funded work is done by private companies, who might not want to release their work to their compe

        • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:38AM (#33423414)

          If you want to talk scary, that's scary. Mann worked/works for public universities paid for with tax dollars. Explain why getting access to anything that he does while on tax payer time isn't as simple as saying "hey dude, can we see your work?"

          Asking to see his work would have amounted to asking for a dump of his published, peer reviewed research papers. They're available without a subpoena. Just because someone works for the public does not mean that they're subject to arbitrary, unjustified investigation at any time, especially when that investigation is expensive and has to be paid for by the public.

          And that's all this judge has said: present evidence that this expensive, time consuming investigation is justified, you get your information. Fail to present it, the public will be spared the cost both of the investigation, and the cost of lost research time that the public will have to bear while this individual is investigated for no reason. It's a valuable function, and our government wouldn't survive without it. In a hypothetical world where investigations have no cost, maybe it would be reasonable to allow this to go forward with no justification. We don't live in that world.

          I guess that's "scary".

      • Note to self: never accept a job in Virginia, and never collaborate with anyone working in Virginia. Sure, there might be little political controversy over cell biology that isn't ESC related, but who knows when a little nero from VA might get it in his head that the bible says I'm wrong.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      What people still have not realized after hundreds of year is just because an authority figure forces other to say something is true doesn't mean it is true. The church torturing Galileo did not make the earth the center of the universe. The church torturing and burning Servetus did not change the function of the heart from pumping blood to regulating it's tides. If the indiana Pi bill had passed, the value would sill be 3.14...

      No matter how many people are killed, no matter how much legislation is en

  • by kenaaker ( 774785 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:44PM (#33420936)
    OH NO, what shall he do now.
    Attacking climate change was his stepping stone to national prominence...
    His life is ruined, ruined I tell you.
  • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:44PM (#33420940)
    Cuccinelli is trying to use professor Mann as a political piñata to further his career. I'd shit in my hat if I thought for one second Cuccinelli gave a rat's ass about science (except for how science affects the teaching of evolution in schools).

    If a climatologist is the biggest fish on Cuccinelli's radar then he needs to take a closer look at local problems that directly affect his constituents. I'm not saying global warming wouldn't directly affect his constituents ... just that trying to silence a scientist just because he doesn't agree with his findings shouldn't be a top priority for politicians (such as those in Cuccinelli's position).
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <> on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:52PM (#33421018) Homepage

    It appears that Ken Cuccinelli is a partisan hack who's using his position as Attorney-General primarily to advance right-wing interests, and thus further his own political ambitions.

    Last week he was going after abortion clinics [].

    This week it's Michael Mann.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The really scary part? In Virginia, the Attorney General usually has the inside track for his party's nomination for governor in the next election.

    • > This week it's Michael Mann.

      Guess there is more then one Burning Man ... :-)

  • Politics aside (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:59PM (#33421074)
    Why should a public funded university not have to respond to such requests? Why, if I were to file a FOIA request for the same data would it be denied? My tax money has paid for it, I have every right as I do to FOIA the video tapes of a traffic stop.

    As such a website that so often cries for "free information" - it is amusing to see "zomg good!" due to the motivations behind the request and why it was denied.
    • by Improv ( 2467 )

      Occasionally there are legal reasons why *some* research records can't be released, particularly those containing subject information in human subject experiments. That's not likely to be the case there.

      For other kinds of information, it can be an issue if people outside of broad academia try to jump in and play politics with the conduct of research - we already have peer review for that, done by people with a solid understanding of statistics and the standards of the field. We don't want our research popul

    • Re:Politics aside (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:05PM (#33421616)

      RTFA, it was not a FOIA request. That may have in fact been much more successful. It was a subpoena request for information based on trumped up(invalid) fraud charges. However a FOIA request would have been much less politically advantageous if it went through, which is all that this whole thing was really about, he wasn't looking for evidence he was looking to be able to smear the guys name with the fact that there may have been enough evidence against him to even start a full scale legally backed investigation.

      You should be thanking this judge for setting this idiot in his place and not allowing him to abuse the legal system and your tax dollars purely for his own political gain.

      It is also still left open for the guy to back up his trumped up fraud charges a little better and resubmit the subpoena request.

      Sorry if I'm less than sympathetic towards the guy but his entire career reeks of abuse of power to push nonsensical politically advantageous policies while largely ignoring bigger problems. Global warming and its existence isn't even on my top TEN list of things for politicians to be worrying about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by canajin56 ( 660655 )
      State Freedom of Information Acts tend to be a lot less broad than the federal one (which only applies to the federal executive branch). Using Michigan as an example, you cannot request all documents relating to a given subject. You have to identify what documents you want, and be specific. In that regard, I highly doubt that you could say "I want all of the email sent by this professor to any of these 40 other people, for the last 5 years". That's absurdly broad. You probably could request all of the
  • by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <> on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:12PM (#33421172) Homepage

    He's abusing taxpayer money to fuel this religious right-wing witch hunt.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling