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Virginia high court holds emails exempt from state Freedom of Information Act

[JURIST] The Virginia Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Thursday that the emails of Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climatologist and professor, are exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act [text]. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli [official profile] subpoenaed university records related to Mann's research in attempting to find misuse of public funds. The justices held [Roanoke Times report] that the exemption for proprietary information in the act is to be read broadly. The court reasoned that without a broad definition for exemptions, the act would place public universities at a competitive disadvantage to private universities. The court also upheld the court of appeals' decision requiring the American Tradition Institute [advocacy website] to pay for the university's costs associated with searching through documents and determining what was exempt and what was not.

This case concerning Mann's research on global warming has been ongoing for years. In March 2011 the Virginia Supreme Court agreed [JURIST report] to hear the case to determine whether Cuccinelli could subpoena records from the University of Virginia concerning Mann's research. In 2010 an Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge dismissed the request [opinion, PDF] citing Cuccinelli's failure to establish a reasonable belief that fraud had occurred, but held that the University could be a proper target of a fraud investigation. Cuccinelli argued that Virginia's 2002 Fraud Against Taxpayers Act allows him to subpoena any records to help determine whether a civil fraud investigation is needed. Critics of the lawsuit have accused Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic, of targeting Mann because of his research [WP report].

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