New York, NY – Attorneys for the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), a nonprofit public watchdog group, today appeared in front of the New York Supreme Court in the latest chapter of an ongoing struggle to obtain public records relating to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s “climate-RICO” scheme to pursue political opponents from the State’s top law enforcement office. Today’s argument was in fact a re-argument involving a longstanding Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request relating to this now-disgraced scheme after subsequent revelation of Schneiderman’s use of a GMail account for work, about which his office had misled the Court previously.
E&E Legal has been forced into an 18-month effort litigating under FOIL and other state laws to educate the public on how tis campaign came about, with whom, at at whose behest — major players in which drama, we now know, include major donors, activists and contingency fee lawyers.
Specifically at issue is GMail correspondence between Schneiderman and his co-ringleader in his policy crusade circumventing the democratic process, former Attorney General William Sorrell of Vermont – also revealed by public records requests to have used a GMail account for work-related correspondence. Sorrell is currently the subject of E&E Legal litigation in Vermont, and refused to answer questions in a deposition yesterday, after skipping the first scheduled questioning.
As E&E Legal’s recently released video details, the records sought involve a scheme, spearheaded by Schneiderman and Sorrell, to go after “Exxon[,] specifically, and the fossil fuel industry generally,” in the words of one email we obtained.
This shakedown campaign, using the full power of law enforcement offices, recruited several other state attorneys general and was launched at a press conference in New York on March 29, 2016 featuring Al Gore. Nearly all of the other state attorneys general recruited by Schneiderman and Sorrell have since fled the scheme after open records requests threatened to expose the use of law enforcement offices to silence political opponents.
Today’s action is one of nearly a dozen legal actions E&E has been forced to file in New York and Vermont in response to what records reveal to be coordinated stonewalling in the wake of Vermont’s initial compliance and release of records. That release led to the spectacular embarrassment of these ‘Climate-RICO’ attorneys general, and even drew the ire of a federal judge wondering in not one but two orders what these officials have to hide.
We now know that neither Schneiderman nor Sorrell, based on his recent deposition no-show in Vermont and subsequent refusal to answer questions, have any interest in transparency. In addition to using off-books GMail accounts to conduct official business, and their staff telling outside activists to mislead the press about their involvement, Sorrell, Schneiderman and the other AGs sought further protection from open records requests by entering into what was described as a “Common Interest Agreement,” but which was in fact an attempted secrecy pact designed to insulate its participants from legally required disclosures.
“Once again, we find ourselves in New York, attempting to obtain records belonging to the public from the top law enforcement official in the state — an individual you would most expect to understand complying with the laws he is elected to oversee,” said E&E Legal’s lead attorney Matthew Hardin. “Regardless of what e-mail accounts Schneiderman and Sorrell used, if such accounts were used to transact official business in their public capacities, they are subject to open records requests. Period.”
Hardin attempted to depose Sorrell in Vermont yesterday after a Superior Court Judge’s ruling there forced him to appear after he skipped his initial deposition. In his deposition, Sorrell said virtually nothing in the hour and a half he was present. Nearly every question Hardin attempted to ask was interrupted by Sorrell’s attorney, who claimed that her client didn’t need to respond, defying the Court’s order that he answer such questions regarding “the extent to which he has documents and correspondence on his private email account and computer that relate to the specific public record in this case.”
“It’s clear we’re in this for the long haul, just as it’s clear the AGs are waging a campaign of denial by delay,” said Craig Richardson, President of E&E Legal. “In a perfect world, the top law enforcement officers of each state would respect the rule of law and adhere to the same rules they impose on others. Unfortunately, Schneiderman and Sorrell appear more interested in advancing politics and ideology than serving the public interest.”
About E&E 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.