In what will no doubt be the first of many court decisions blocking Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s frivolous legal theories, a Virginia judge halted Cuccinelli’s witchhunt targeting a respected climate change scientist:
An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.
Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.
The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.
Judge Paul Peatross’ opinion highlights a number of amateur mistakes in Cuccinelli’s document request, including the fact that four of the five grants that Cuccinelli is investigating appear to involve federal funds — and thus are beyond the Virginia attorney general’s power to investigate. Most significantly, however, Peatross finds that Cuccinelli failed to provide even a very rudimentary explanation of just what Professor Mann did “that was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia.” In other words, in the course of an investigation into whether Mann violated Virginia anti-fraud law, Cuccinelli forgot to claim that Mann actually committed fraud.
Peatross’ opinion leaves open the possibility that Cuccinelli could fix the many egregious errors in his document request and refile. But given the sheer breadth of these errors, it is unlikely that Cuccinelli’s witchhunt will go any further. And this is hardly the only example of Cuccinelli filing an embarrassingly incompetent legal document as part of his many ideological crusades. In one case, for example, Cuccinelli claims that discredited “climategate” allegations somehow strip the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In another, he claims that the mere fact that the Boston Tea Party happened somehow makes the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
But of course, filing grossly incompetent legal documents is, in the words of Dahlia Lithwick, “one of the perils of treating one’s elected office like a Fox News show.” Cuccinelli is so busy trying to get right-wingers to pay attention to him, he’s forgotten to actually do his real job.