Since taking office in January, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been a whirlwind of conservative activism, leading the legal fight against President Obama's health-care reform and environmental policies and issuing controversial opinions on gay rights and abortion clinics, among others.
But the hard-charging lawyer, a global warming skeptic, was rebuffed Monday in his efforts to prove that a former University of Virginia climate-science professor committed fraud in obtaining research grants.
Albermarle County Circuit Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. set aside the attorney general's subpoenas relating to five grants, totaling $466,000, given to Professor Michael Mann because they failed to articulate sufficiently that U.Va. had documents pertinent to allegations of fraud.
"What the attorney general suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds ... simply is not stated," Peatross ruled.
Four of the grants, involving federal funds, were beyond Cuccinelli's purview, the judge held. The fifth, for $214,700 in state funds, was dispensed in 2001, two years before the General Assembly adopted the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which was the rationale for the probe. Peatross said Cuccinelli could pursue Mann's actions concerning the grants only since the statute was enacted.
The case raised concerns nationwide about the sanctity of academic freedom and scientific research -- a "witch hunt" to alarmists. Although the judge acknowledged "the controversy regarding Dr. Mann's work on the issue of global warming," he concluded that "it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent."
Cuccinelli promised to redraft the subpoenas to meet Peatross's objections, but the inquiry was a stretch even before the judge's ruling. Perseverance will look like a fool's errand even for an attorney general bent on rattling cages and making headlines.