After a November 1 hearing, a Virginia judge has granted a petition from the University of Virginia to alter an earlier, inappropriate agreement by university lawyers that would have allowed the radical right-wing, global warming denialist American Tradition Institute, which is seeking access to thousands of emails between climate scientist Michael Mann and dozens of his colleagues, to read the emails in advance of a final open records ruling. Climate Science Watch had joined with other groups in letters to the University leadership critical of the earlier agreement to disclose emails and calling on the University to exercise all appropriate scholarly exemptions from disclosure. The court also granted Dr. Mann standing to join the lawsuit against ATI. Dr. Mann’s lawyers can be expected to fight more strenuously for privacy of scientists’ communication than his former employer, we told the UK Guardian.
Was the group letter to the University of Virginia President criticizing the University’s original acquiescence in disclosing emails to ATI the first domino in stopping this agreement from going forward?
Coverage in the UK Guardian:
Judge revokes permission of sceptic thinktank American Tradition Institute to look at private University of Virginia emails
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
Wednesday 2 November 2011
The climate scientist Michael Mann has successfully fought off an attempt by a pro-industry thinktank to gain access to thousands of private emails.
After a day-long court hearing on Tuesday, a judge in Manassas, Virginia, granted Mann’s petition to join a lawsuit against the American Tradition Institute, an industry-funded thinktank that promotes scepticism about man-made climate change.
In an email, Mann called the decision a “good day” for academic freedom: “I don’t think there is any way to view this as anything other than a win for us, and for science more generally.”
Judge Gaylord Finch also granted a petition from the University of Virginia, Mann’s former employer, to revisit its earlier decision to let lawyers for the ATI have access to the emails before they were made public.
Scientists had seen the demands for documents and private correspondence as an attempt to intimidate Mann and other climate scientists. Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has also pursued the emails.
ATI is pursuing similar legal action against the Nasa scientist James Hansen, according to an investigation of the industry group.
The university has already released thousands of Mann’s emails but said some correspondence was exempt from ATI’s freedom of information requests.
Its initial decision to allow ATI’s lawyers to review the emails while it determined which would be withheld had been criticised by scientists. …
With Tuesday’s ruling, Mann for the first time has a say in the university’s decisions about which emails should be released.
Rick Piltz, the director of Climate Science Watch, said Mann’s lawyers could also be expected to fight more strenuously for his privacy than his former employer.
Mann’s legal battles do not end with Tuesday’s decision. The judge ordered the scientist and the university to come to an agreement with ATI on email access by 20 December or else he would impose one.
“I have no illusions that ATI and their industry-funded ilk are going to give up in their efforts to harass me and other climate scientists,” Mann wrote. “But this is a very good day for me, for my fellow scientists across the country who might fear that they could be subject to similar intimidation tactics if their work too were perceived as a threat to powerful vested interests, and it’s a good day for the public, which, after all, depend on the unfettered progress of science for the betterment of modern life.”
Earlier CSW posts:
Letter calling on Univ. of Virginia to prevent inappropriate open records disclosure of climate scientists’ exempt emails and documents [Union of Concerned Scientists, American Association of University Professors, American Geophysical Union, Climate Science Watch]
In defense of academic freedom against denialist FOIA inquisition tactics [Letter to University of Virginia President Sullivan from American Association of University professors, Virginia ACLU, Union of Concerned Scientists, and nine other groups, including Climate Science Watch]
Some additional very good coverage and commentary on yesterday’s court ruling:
Climate scientist wins his day in court (Nature news blog. Covers especially well the withdrawal by the University of Virginia of the agreement to give ATI access to the disputed emails. We agree with the view that that the University’s acquiescence to giving ATI access in the earlier agreement gave Dr. Mann no choice but to intervene.)
Judge Approves Request to Protect Scientists’ Private Emails Disclosure to Special Interest Group. Group Is Requesting Same Records as Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (Union of Concerned Scientists press release. UCS has taken a leadership role in drawing attention to this case and pushing the University of Virginia to stand up. The press release includes a timeline of particular actions in the legal harassment of Mann and his colleagues that are relevant to yesterday’s decision.)
Climate Scientist Wins A Round for America (Very good post by Shawn Lawrence Otto at Huffington Post, emphasizing the backstory and the larger context)
Mike Mann’s Thank You Letter to Supporters (Scott Mandia, Climate Science Legal Defense fund blog)
Score Another Victory for Scientists, Michael Mann, and Freedom of Inquiry (Chris Mooney, DeSmogBlog)
Mike Mann wins one for the planet (Peter Sinclair, Climate Denial Crock of the Week. This is an excellent website. Please get to know it if you haven’t already.)
An Important Victory for Climate Science (Greg Laden’s blog)