For Immediate Release:
October 7, 2016
Schneiderman Unlawfully Withholding Documents Which Other FOI Requests Prove Exist, and are Not Privileged
Washington, D.C. – After months of stonewalling of public information requests by New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) was once again forced to file suit against that office to compel release of public records relating to the Schneiderman-led climate crusade to silence political opponents.
This latest action by E&E Legal follows several successful efforts to compel Democratic Attorneys General who were part of the “Green 20” coalition to comply with public records requests — who nonetheless do continue a collective slow-walk and even stonewall, agreed in advance as E&E Legal’s open records requests have demonstrated. Revelations have nonetheless been startling, including the Democratic AGs collaborating with outside activist groups on this campaign to use their offices to investigate political opponents, efforts by AGs to mislead the media, and the Green 20 coalition attempt to enter into a secrecy pact masquerading as a “common-interest agreement” to keep public records reflecting their scheming from the public.
In the face of these revelations, the New York Attorney General is still holding out, refusing to comply with his state’s transparency laws. E&E Legal demonstrates in its complaint that correspondence meeting the requests’ descriptions have already been proved to exist and are being illegally withheld.
“The embarrassment and failure of this climate crusade is no reason for the New York Attorney General to defy open records laws to keep public records secret,” said Craig Richardson, E&E Legal’s Executive Director. “Emails we have obtained from Schneiderman’s counterparts in other states reveal that his friends abandoned him as soon as the threat of exposure emerged. It’s way past the time for the New York Attorney General to let these public records see the light of day, effectively coming clean on his political witch hunt to silence critics.”
Schneiderman’s Excuses Don’t Hold Up
Schneiderman’s office took months before producing a single document in response to E&E Legal’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. When it finally did produce some records, it included only one hundred eighty five pages mostly consisting of media stories, press releases and public regulatory filings. This stall tactic bought time, before Scheiderman’s office finally committed the act of denying the request, which triggers E&E Legal’s right to sue the AG to comply.
The Attorney General invoked three reasons for refusing to comply with the open records requests: that they were privileged communications between an attorney and a client, or attorney work product; disclosure would interfere with a law enforcement investigation; or they were privileged inter- or intra-agency memoranda.
These on their face are suspect given, as E&E Legal notes in its complaint, “Eight of the fifteen search terms contained in the March 30, 2016 request were email addresses belonging to parties outside of the Attorney General’s Office, while several of the other search terms were the names of private parties who, public reports suggest, did or may have had a role in encouraging the Attorney General to investigate the above-described opponents.” Also, two of the five search terms in the other request were email “domain” addresses belonging to private parties outside of the Attorney General’s Office and E&E Legal “already possesses proof that the Attorney General’s Office corresponded with those addresses yet is improperly withholding those records.”
Other search terms were the names of known “outside advisor” activists, correspondence with or about whom New York’s AG feels must be kept secret, even if other state AGs have let slip dozens of such pages from their clutches, however reluctantly.
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.