Dr. Mann’s FOIA Litigation and CSLDF Involvement
The case that sparked the movement.
The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) was initially founded to help defend climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann against a campaign of harassment by politically motivated groups who sought to intimidate and discredit him.
Dr. Mann is currently the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and one of the pioneers in reconstructing historical temperature data. His research shows a dramatic increase in post-industrial era temperatures, sometimes termed the “hockey stick” graph – and sadly, this influential research has also made him a target for groups attempting to disprove the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.
In January 2011, Dr. Mann received requests made under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – one of many state and federal laws allowing citizens to request copies of governmental records – claiming that because Dr. Mann had received taxpayer funding through his earlier employment at the University of Virginia, all his private records were effectively public records. The FOIA requests sought access to almost everything that Dr. Mann had written or received while at UVA, including years of private emails.
These sweeping FOIA requests were made by the American Tradition Institute (ATI), since rebranded Energy & Environment Legal, a group that challenges environmental causes across the country and argues evidence of man-made climate change is “scientific fraud.” ATI issued a press release making clear that it sought to investigate Dr. Mann’s records because it was critical of his findings, and that it was seeking to pick up where previous attacks on Dr. Mann had left off.
UVA and Dr. Mann had to engage in protracted litigation to prove that Dr. Mann’s emails and other documents were protected by Virginia law. In addition to UVA’s defense, Dr. Mann intervened as a separate party in the case to individually safeguard his constitutional rights. Dr. Mann’s intervention was essential for protecting his work, and forestalled against issues where his interests as an individual scientist differed from UVA’s interests – but it was also a very expensive measure.
CSLDF helped Dr. Mann raise over $100,000 to pay for his legal bills. Following years of litigation, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Dr. Mann’s favor in spring 2014. In addition to establishing a powerful precedent against harassment of scientists, the Virginia Supreme Court also awarded Dr. Mann $250 in damages, which Dr. Mann called “symbolic” and a “recognition by the court of the frivolous and pernicious nature” of the suit. (More here.) Dr. Mann presented CSLDF’s Treasurer Charles Zeller with a 6 ft. check to commemorate the win.
CSLDF’s continuing work
While CSLDF’s inaugural undertaking was to assist Dr. Mann’s Virginia FOIA litigation, CSLDF continues to support scientists facing legal attacks, and to work with both scientists and lawyers to fight back against harassment by politically motivated groups.