Peatross decides: Judge pens halt to Cuccinelli inquest
The controversial "climategate" inquest by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli came to a halt Monday as an Albemarle County judge issued a declaration that set aside a demand for old emails from Michael Mann, the former UVA professor and creator of the so-called "hockey stick graph," which posits that global temperatures are undergoing an unprecedented spike.
In a case that drew international attention, both sides spun the decision their way.
On the hot-button issue of whether such an inquest would have harmed academic freedom–- something that was argued by four rights groups in an amicus brief–- retired judge Paul Peatross seemed reluctant to carve out such a privilege.
"The Attorney General has the right to investigate if he meets the other requirements of the statute," wrote Peatross, noting that he was preserving Cuccinelli's right to refile a narrower inquest.
"I am pleased that the judge has agreed with my office on several key legal points," Cuccinelli said in a prepared statement, "and has given us a framework for issuing a new civil investigative demand to get the information necessary to continue our investigation into whether or not fraud has been committed against the Commonwealth."
Judge Peatross heard arguments from the two sides on Friday, August 20–- the same day that a small protest of UVA professors and students took place on the steps of the Rotunda.
The Peatross ruling blistered the AG's office on several points including the state's failure to state precisely why it believes that old emails relate to a monetary fraud. Additionally, Peatross found that only one of the five grants Mann received at UVA actually consisted of state money, and so it didn't meet the requirements of the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, or FATA, the 2003 Virginia law that gave the AG the right to his so-called Civil Investigative Demand.
Peatross also found that most of the grants preceded FATA, which was designed for frauds against the Commonwealth, but he left the door open to a refiling if the Attorney General can show that Virginia funds were paid during a time when FATA was in effect.
–story updated for print with UVA's spin at 2:50pm, Tuesday, August 31