Court Orders U. of Virginia to Produce Michael Mann Documents

As I mentioned last week, the American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center took the University of Virginia to court yesterday in Prince William County, Va., to ask a judge to force the release of documents of Climategate scientist Michael Mann, from his tenure there years ago. He’s now at Penn State. We asked for the UVA records more than four months ago. Our court hearing was yesterday.

As you will see in this excerpt from our press release today, UVA has been less than cooperative:

Under FOIA the University was required to produce the documents within five days of its receipt of payment for “accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching” for the documents. Alternatively they could have entered into an agreement with ATI on when they would supply the documents, or they could have gone to court to ask for more time. They did none of the above. Instead they promised to provide some of the documents “shortly” on April 6; then specifically on May 6, 2011; and always stated they would get to the others later on. They did none of this either, so ATI went to court to compel production and compliance with the law.

But once we turned up the pressure…

ATI finally received the first approximately 20 percent of the 9,000 pages of documents that UVA says are responsive to ATI’s request and that it possesses, only after ATI filed its petition, and two working days before the judicial hearing. Most of what ATI received in this seemingly hurried production, which was more focused on showing volume than content, were ads for Halloween costumes, public news releases from lay and scientific journals, and a few emails that were printed in computer code so as to be unintelligible in that form. Despite this product of (according to the University) 75 hours of review and more than four months, the University stopped work on producing anything further.

As our director of litigation Chris Horner has said, “our filing suit helped clarify the University’s thinking,” so they dumped a pile of mostly useless documents on us “to show volume if not actual cooperation,” to “look less bad to a court.” This was all while they tried to charge ATI $8,500 — an unsupportable sum — to produce the documents, of which we paid nearly half, yet UVA still delayed and withheld. We are challenging that also and a judge is due to render a decision on June 15.

As for yesterday, the judge issued two orders: one for the University to produce the documents within 90 days in electronic form, as we requested, instead of the document dump they appeared to be prepared to make; and the other a protective order which allows Horner and our Law Center director, David Schnare, to review the records that UVA wants to claim as exempt and therefore keep from the view of the public. Horner and Schnare will be able to then argue before a judge later this year why Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act does not allow the exemptions (such as “academic freedom” and “proprietary research”) that UVA is likely to claim.