For Immediate Release:
September 21, 2016
Washington, D.C – This week, the Superior Court of Washington County, Vermont denied an effort by the state’s Attorney General to dismiss an open records lawsuit filed by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute. E&E Legal was compelled to file this suit when it received no cooperation on a request for records relating to an effort, jointly organized by Vermont AG William Sorrell with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to investigate and pursue parties who oppose their position on “climate change” and related policies.
The Attorney General’s office claimed the Court lacked jurisdiction because the AG had not officially denied the request, even though the deadline had passed and the AG had denied an appeal, all while claiming it “wasn’t ripe” and that E&E Legal had no recourse but to continue waiting. The Vermont AG also abandoned its position maintained to date, in explaining its failure to process E&E Legal’s request, that it could outsource processing of records to a consultant and charge E&E Legal many more times the statutorily permitted rate. This waiting game is now a commonplace among the colluding AGs in their political coalition first exposed by an April records production, ironically from the Vermont AG’s office.
The blowback from those initial revelations was followed by Vermont and other offices slow-walking and even stonewalling further requests, as the necessity for this very litigation suggests. Indeed, the same day of last Thursday’s hearing, E&E Legal was forced to sue Vermont’s AG on two more requests being improperly denied.
“Various AGs have been stonewalling us to different extents for months, yet we received the records within hours after the Court issued its ruling denying the AG’s Motion to Dismiss,” said Craig Richardson, E&E Legal Executive Director. “The AG has shown a reluctance of late to comply with Vermont law unless a court orders him to, suggesting a greater obligation in that office to the New York AG than the citizens of the Green Mountain State who are paying for his increasingly political operation.”
The Court rejected AG Sorrell’s position in this first case, stating that “otherwise a recalcitrant agency could simply unilaterally delay the deadline and the requester would have no recourse, whereas the
Instead, the Court ordered the AG to release the records by October 3, and ruled that the Court maintains jurisdiction in the event the AG’s office chooses to claim it need not produce the responsive records once it finally processes the request. Remarkably, almost immediately upon being so ordered by the Court, the AG’s office released 47 public records it was holding, while refusing to provide about 230 others others on, in some cases, facially absurd claims of attorney-client privilege.
For example, Vermont is insisting the public not see a meeting agenda for April 25, 2016 sent by Harvard Law School “Senior Clinical Instructor”, and former EarthJustice attorney, Shaun Goho. E&E Legal has established that other participants included the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Peter Frumhoff, like Goho, apparently, one of the “outside advisors” the AGs reference in a purported “common interest agreement”, as select non-OAG employees with whom they will share documents for which they otherwise claim privilege in order to keep the public from seeing them.
This meeting had cryptically come up in correspondence obtained from another OAG, which included on the distribution list a former District of Columbia Attorney General, now plaintiffs’ lawyer in private practice who “create[s] big paydays by coaxing attorneys general to sue”.
By withholding this meeting agenda, Vermont is essentially asserting it shares a common interest or attorney-client relationship in pursuing climate skeptics not only with activists and lobbyists, but with the plaintiffs’ bar and Harvard University. Vermont claims that this agenda for a meeting with activists at Harvard to plot the use of AG offices for what is expressly a political campaign included “review of a potential legal matter” in which the State of Vermont could have been involved; this is problematic, in that Vermont has not identified what “potential legal matter” it was reviewing, which would relate to an agenda at a meeting of a political coalition of leftist activists and lobbyists. Indeed, Vermont is essentially admitting it contemplated using state prosecutorial resources to silence dissent.
E&E Legal and its attorneys will continue the fight in Vermont to make sure these records, already shared with politically-favored activists and others, are released in full for public inspection.
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.