Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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VA Supremes to Hear Case of Cooch v. Academic Freedom

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The case of Ken Cuccinelli's unconstitutional harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann is now headed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

This ought to be interesting.  According to the Virginia Times-Dispatch story,

In granting the full hearing, the court outlined key legal questions to be considered, including what is the standard Cuccinelli had to meet for believing that U.Va. had relevant documents; how much proof of wrongdoing Cuccinelli had to show to have his request granted; and whether a Virginia statute aimed at combating fraud of taxpayer dollars applies to federal grant money that only passes through the state's hands.

Considering that Cooch's case is based solely on wacko climate change conspiracy theories - even though many climate skeptics have actually condemned Cooch's actions in this case - and he presented ZERO evidence that Professor Mann committed anything resembling fraud, this ought to be the very definition of an open-and-shut case.  

Still, I have to admit I have rarely followed the VA Supreme Court and don't know quite what to expect to them.  Per Judgepedia, I see a 3-2 Republican-Democratic split on the court.  Will the Republican appointees slavishly defend Cooch, or will they act like actual judges considering the facts of the case?

I encourage all interested parties to file amicus briefs arguing for academic freedom at the University of Virginia and beyond.  I'd also like to hear from some of our lawyer friends about what they think we should expect from the court and any suggestions on how to file such briefs successfully.  

Ultimately, I'm confident that we will win this fight, because freedom of speech and inquiry is what America is all about.

The First Amendment’s Greatest Nightmare is Back!

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Just in time for Halloween - Coochie's back!  No, nothing can stop this maniac - not common sense, not reams of empirical evidence of human-induced climate change - and certainly not a court order affirming that he's full of (a certain methane-emitting organic substance).  

In direct defiance of Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr's ruling that Cooch's case against U-VA was so hollow that it echoed (I'm paraphrasing here), Virginia's Ayatollah General Ken Cuccinelli has issued yet another subpoena (called a civil investigative demand or CID) against Jefferson's university and its former professor, acclaimed climate scientist Michael Mann.

In his CID (does he, in his fantasies, call himself "El Cid"?), Cooch shows his characteristic level of self restraint by only asking U-VA to produce

the original and any copies of any written, printed, typed, electronic, or graphic matter of any kind or nature, however,  produced or reproduced, any book, pamphlet, brochure, periodical, newspaper, letter, correspondence, memoranda, notice, facsimile, e-mail, manual, press release, telegram , report, study, handwritten note, working paper, chart, paper, graph, index, tape, data sheet, data processing card, or any other written, recorded, transcribed, punched, taped, filmed or graphic matter now in your possession, custody or control.

Cooch v. UVA Case to be Decided Soon

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Ken Cuccinelli's effort to bully climate scientists into submission will be judged in court over the next two weeks.  

Retired Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. has promised to come up with a ruling in the court battle between Cooch and the University of Virginia within the next 10 days.  In today's hearing, UVA attorney Chuck Rosenberg argued that Cooch's "civil investigative demands" looking for evidence of fraud in Professor Michael Mann's climate research are nothing more than a big fishing expedition with zero legal justification.  

To which VA Deputy Attorney General Wesley Russell replied: "You can't have a finding until you look."  A nice justification for a police state in which everyone the Attorney General's office doesn't agree with is subject to unlawful search and seizure.  

The good news is that the judge seemed rightly skeptical of such BS, pressing Russell for a better answer than that.  So hopefully, Judge Peatross will rule in favor of academic freedom and against the arbitrary use of state force to decide scientific questions with political answers.  

For the best coverage of today's hearing, see the AP story at WTOP and Anita Kumar's story at the WaPo.

Good luck, UVA!

UVA Stands Up To the Bully, Calls Cooch’s Bluff

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We all know how much damage bullies do in high school.  But how about when the bully is a powerful government official?

That's when the bully's targets need to stand up, challenge him and let the world know that such noxious behavior will not be tolerated - before such government officials start to think that they can get away with bullying us all.  So thank God for the University of Virginia's bold stance in opposition to the Bully of the Commonwealth, Ken Cuccinelli.

On Tuesday, UVA filed the latest brief in its legal challenge to Cuccinelli's "civil investigative demands" (subpoenas, basically) aimed at acclaimed climate scientist (and former UVA professor) Michael Mann.  It is an excellent piece of work, so let's allow it to speak for itself with the following excerpts:

The implications of [Cuccinelli's] position are staggering in their breadth; according to the Attorney General, whenever an academic offers a disagreement with another academic's scientific conclusions, that disagreement opens the debate up to participation from the Attorney General's office in the form of a civil investigative demand.  No discipline - and no professor - falls outside this claimed authority.

The Attorney General's opposition itself makes clear that the Attorney General did not issue the civil investigative demands under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers act to investigate fraud on Commonwealth taxpayers. Rather, the CIDs were issued in an unprecedented attempt to challenge a university professor's peer reviewed data, methodologies and conclusions. But FATA does not authorize the Attorney General to police academic debate -- and it certainly does not authorize the Attorney General to target for government investigation those who conduct scientific research with which the Attorney General disagrees.

Cooch vs. UVA: The Logic of Tyranny

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Cross posted at Daily Kos

Ken Cuccinelli's latest filing in his legal witchhunt against the University of Virginia is a genuinely Orwellian demonstration of how to bend reality to fit the needs of one's ideology.  Cooch's "logic" here is chillingly similar to the reasoning of totalitarian leaders who, confronted with facts that challenge their power, simply declare war against reality and logic altogether.

Here are a few examples:

According to Cooch, the fact that repeated investigations by academic institutions around the world (like here and here) have cleared climate scientist Michael Mann of any wrongdoing - and shown "climategate" to be nothing more than a right wing hoax - actually proves that Prof. Mann must be guilty:

Ironically, the various investigations of Mann and other climate scientists cited by the university in its brief and various other similar investigations simply augment the already sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation. It is truly the university's position that none of those investigations were warranted and all of the groups cited acted without any reasonable basis in fact? If not, the very existence of those investigations reinforces the conclusion that there is sufficient basis for the attorney general to have issued the CIDs in the instant case. That some of the investigations cited have been completed and have allegedly 'cleared' Mann does not alter the analysis.
 

Democratic Party Of Virginia on Ken Cuccinelli

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Here's what the Democrats, party of the future, think of one of the primary representatives of the party of the past, the anti-freedom party (i.e., the Republican Party)

Who’s Virginia’s Real Climate Fraud?

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Attorney General Cuccinelli stubbornly continued his assault on science and reason with a recent court filing against the University of Virginia.  Super Cooch continues to press his "case" that  Professor Michael Mann committed "fraud" against state government by conducting climate change research that failed to conform to the looniest conspiracy theories of the far right:

"Neither academic freedom nor the First Amendment have ever been held to immunize a person, whether an academic or not, from civil or criminal actions for fraud, let alone immunized them from an otherwise authorized investigation," Cuccinelli's filing with the Albemarle County Circuit Court states.

In order to truly appreciate what a radical and precedent-shattering act Super Cooch has undertaken here, it's important to understand what a deadly serious (and rare) situation it is for a state's top legal official to charge someone with fraud for conducting legitimate academic research.

Wikipedia has a helpful list of categories of fraud, to illustrate the type of major crimes we're talking about here:

Types of criminal fraud include:  • bait and switch • bankruptcy fraud • benefit fraud, committing fraud to get government benefits • counterfeiting of currency, documents or valuable goods [...] creation of false companies or "long firms" • embezzlement, taking money which one has been entrusted with on behalf of another party • false advertising • false billing • false insurance claims • forgery of documents or signatures, • health fraud, for example selling of products known not to be effective, such as quack medicines, • identity theft • investment frauds, such as Ponzi schemes and Pyramid schemes • [...] • rigged gambling games such as the shell game • securities frauds such as pump and dump • tax fraud, not reporting revenue or illegally avoiding taxes.

Why Conservatives Must Support UVA Against the Cuccinelli Inquisition

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Here at Blue Virginia, we spend many joyful hours going after the right wing - cataloguing flaws in conservative thinking, opposing Republican policy disasters, and questioning whether such characters as Sarah Palin truly represent the finest in American statesmanship.

That said, I do believe there are thoughtful conservatives out there who bring something to the public debate and who are capable of listening and responding to reason.  So in the belief that such individuals exist, I am targeting today's diary at them, with this message:  

A genuine conservative, looking at the emerging court case of Cuccinelli vs. the University of Virginia, must - to be true to be his or her beliefs - support UVA in this fight.

While conservatism has a variety of strands (social, military, fiscal, etc.) clearly the ascendant brand in the U.S. right now, with the Tea Party increasingly in the Republican driver's seat, is libertarianism, the belief in limited, "hands-off" government.  Scan most any Republican or Tea Party or conservative manifesto, blog or website these days and you will see the same words pop up over and over again, like "liberty", "freedom" and "Constitution."  Play out the concepts behind those words, and it is almost impossible for conservatives to support Cuccinelli without betraying the very principles they claim so passionately to believe in.  

Key Climate Skeptics Denounce Cuccinelli’s Assault on Freedom

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Cooch has gone so far to the extreme in his attack on academic freedom at the University of Virginia that even some climate skeptics are denouncing his actions. Per Andrew Revkin's DotEarth blog, these critics include Paul "Chip" Knappenberger, who writes:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has placed scientists, past and present, from the state's public universities (a group that includes me) under notice: You may be prosecuted for your work. [...] In no way will the threat of a civil lawsuit move science along more efficiently. More than likely it will have the opposite effect as intimidation will result in fewer ideas being put forth.

Also Steve McIntyre:

This is a repugnant piece of over-zealousness by the Virginia Attorney General, that I condemn. [...] To the extent that Virginia citizens are concerned about public money being misappropriated, Cuccinelli's own expenditures on this adventure should be under equal scrutiny. There will be no value for dollar in this enterprise. [...] To the extent that there are issues with Mann or Jones or any of these guys, they are at most academic misconduct and should be dealt with under those regimes. It is unfortunate that the inquiries at Penn State and UEA have not been even minimally diligent, but complaints on that account rest with the universities or their supervising institutions and the substitution of inappropriate investigations by zealots like Cuccinelli are not an alternative.

Will Your Elected Officials Stand Up For Academic Freedom?

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In light of Attorney General Cuccinelli's abuse of his power to intimidate climate scientists who produce research that he finds politically convenient to attack, I have two questions for every single one of my Virginia elected officials:

1) Do your support or oppose Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom?
2) If the latter, when will you make a public statement announcing your position?

Sorry, no mealy-mouthed evasions of the issue allowed this time.  Freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression is not some minor issue - it is the lifeblood without with democracy cannot function.  And it is by no means merely a progressive or Democratic issue.  Conservative Supreme Court Justices in recent years have demonstrated such a strong commitment to the First Amendment that they have chosen to protect even such repugnant forms of speech as flag burning, videos showing violence against animals, and depictions of child pornography.  Considering that, how can conservatives not support the freedom of scientists to conduct their research free from bullying by government officials?

Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other right-wingers talk endlessly about freedom and liberty.  So let's put all of Virginia's elected Republican officials on record to see if - when faced with a case where academic freedom is openly threatened by state power - they will put their money where their mouth is.  Governor Bob, of course, needs to be questioned most relentlessly, but all the officials below him need to be heard from too.  

Virginia Democrats, led by Delegate Mark Herring, have taken a strong stand on this issue.  But we cannot allow them to take their eyes off the ball.  We need every Democrat in Virginia to speak out publicly against this outrageous act in order to keep the pressure on the McDonnell-Cuccinelli Administration and continually ratchet it up - until they back off.

I strongly encourage you to contact your own elected officials and ask these same questions.  You can find contact information and links for all of them here.

We elect our leaders to safeguard our freedoms.  Will they come through for us this time, or not?