Press Release: Former VT AG and Climate Crusade Co-Ringleader William Sorrell Defies Court Order Joining Him to Lawsuit, Skips Deposition on Private E-mail Use

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Burlington, VT- After a court order, nearly a year of legal wrangling and constant stonewalling about records relating to former Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell’s involvement in the scandalous climate-RICO cabal exposed by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), Sorrell has now defied the Court order joining him to the lawsuit and refused to show for a 10:00 a.m. deposition today in Burlington. He did so without permission or any ground to ignore the deposition under Vermont’s Civil Rules.

Sorrell, co-ringleader in the RICO scheme with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was to sit for questioning by E&E Legal’s attorneys. The state’s longtime top lawyer, and still officer of the court, simply didn’t show.

Sorrell and his attorneys had attempted several legal maneuvers to avoid appearing for questioning about his role in the now-disgraced scheme, and particularly his since-discovered use of private email for work-related correspondence — a practice E&E Legal also uncovered with Schneiderman, which will be the subject of re-argument later this month after that office misled the Court the first time the issue came up, earlier in the year.  The Vermont Court did not grant Sorrell’s motion to quash, actually filed on his behalf by the Office of Attorney General, where, at long last, Sorrell no longer works.

After Sorrell indicated through counsel that he believed he was immune to discovery as the former Attorney General, statutes and precedent notwithstanding, E&E Legal local counsel Brady Toensing sent a letter on October 2 indicating the lack of any legal basis for going AWOL, adding Sorrell “is not entitled to refuse discovery on the sole basis of a pending motion and absent a ruling from the court he is obliged to appear for the properly noticed deposition.”

Sorell’s attorney responded with a voice mail to E&E Legal counsel Tuesday afternoon once again stating his client’s refusal to appear.  Toensing replied in writing reminding Sorrell and his legal team that based on the September 15th notice of deposition OAG itself filed with the Court as an exhibit, Sorrell is legally obligated to appear under Vermont’s Rules of Civil Procedure.

Continued Toensing, “The filing of a Motion to Quash without a court order granting that motion does not excuse you from your obligation to comply with the rules of civil procedure. Warning us that you do not intend to comply with those rules is also not a valid excuse. Your position is weaker still in light of the Court’s recent ruling granting joinder of your client.”

E&E Legal lead counsel, Matthew Hardin, traveled from Virginia to Vermont in reliance upon faithful compliance with Vermont’s laws by its longtime Attorney General. “Any first year law student understands you cannot ignore basic civil procedures like skipping a deposition if you are compelled, simply because you would prefer not to participate,” he said.  “When you consider the fact that the individual in question is the former attorney general of an entire state, his failure to follow the very rules he spent twenty years enforcing is unfathomable.”

This case is one of many E&E Legal has been forced to file in Vermont and New York after a coordinated stonewall built up, after Vermont’s initial compliance and release of some relevant records led to spectacular embarrassment and even shaming by a federal judge citing to those revelations. Specifically at issue in this case are e-mails between Sorrell and Schneiderman involving the scheme the two men cooked up to go after “Exxon specifically, and the fossil fuel industry generally”, as one email described the plan. This shakedown campaign using the full power of their law enforcement offices recruited several other state attorneys general — if only briefly, until the open records requests started coming in — and launched with a highly publicized press conference in New York on March 29, 2016 featuring Al Gore.

It is this campaign Sorrell does not want to discuss. In addition to using GMail accounts, and their staff telling outside activists to mislead the press about their involvement, Sorrell, Schneiderman and the other attorneys general sought further protection from freedom of information act requests by entering into a purported “Common Interest Agreement,” which was no such thing but in fact an attempted secrecy pact by which they hoped to keep safe from public inquires.

This summer, in two separate cases one of which involved Sorrell’s gmail account and the use of the Common Interest Agreement, a Vermont Judge ruled in E&E Legal’s favor on both.  Today’s deposition was the next step in these matters.

“One federal judge has already suggested that these AGs sure act like they’ve got something to hide,” said E&E Legal President Craig Richardson. “Today’s ‘dodge and weave’ behavior by William Sorrell, along with his former Office’s in Vermont and Eric Schneiderman’s in the New York courts, strongly suggests there there is indeed much more embarrassing and quite possibly illegal contained in the records we seek.”

About EE Legal

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) is a 501(c)(3) organization engaged in strategic litigation, policy research, and public education on important energy and environmental issues. Primarily through its petition litigation and transparency practice areas, E&E Legal seeks to correct onerous federal and state policies that hinder the economy, increase the cost of energy, eliminate jobs, and do little or nothing to improve the environment.

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