Open Records Petition Seeks More Sunlight on NY AG’s #ExxonKnew Strategy

A free market group petitioned the New York Supreme Court Tuesday to force New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to turn over emails from his Gmail account related to his investigation of ExxonMobil. The move follows a Vermont court ruling earlier this month ordering former Vermont AG William Sorrell to appear for a deposition related to his own involvement in Schneiderman’s campaign against the company.

That Order was reaffirmed, in yet another Order by the same court in response to further efforts to avoid disclosure about the use of Gmail to conduct this campaign.

The Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) revealed in related litigation that Schneiderman used his private Gmail account to conduct official government business, a move that could signal efforts to avoid disclosing emails that would ordinarily be responsive to a public records request. The private Gmail account was found within a privileged log of correspondence Schneiderman’s office submitted to the court in the course of blocking E&E Legal’s previous attempts to obtain the public records.

The search by Schneiderman’s office which excluded the Gmail account is now the subject of a re-argument scheduled for next week.

The Daily Caller reported earlier this year that Schneiderman’s Environmental Protection Bureau Chief also used a personal Gmail account to prepare for meetings with environmental groups. The Vermont development about that state’s then-AG using a non-official — again Gmail — account suggests the possibility he used it to communicate with his partner in the ExxonMobil investigation, Schneiderman. The Vermont court order came in response to a similar petition by E&E Legal – one of nearly a dozen the organization has had to file in Vermont and New York after the AGs stonewalled the group.

E&E Legal lead attorney Matthew Hardin issued a statement, writing:

“It’s clear that, whether or not Schneiderman and Sorrell were using GMail as a means of circumventing official government e-mail accounts in the hope of keeping official discussions away from public records requests, moving official emails to non-public accounts doesn’t make them any less public…Regardless of what e-mail accounts they used, if it relates to official business in their public capacities, it is open to our requests. It’s time these two AG offices stop making open records requesters sue as their default position, a position openly acknowledged in emails E&E Legal has already obtained.”

E&E Legal also published a video describing the history of the #ExxonKnew campaign, tracing the effort back to the infamous 2012 conference in La Jolla, Calif., where activists drew up a strategy for holding companies accountable for “climate change damages.”

“This scandal has it all, from major party donors using money and influence, engaging politicians willing to use their offices to advance a campaign-to-order against political opponents” said E&E Legal President Craig Richardson.  “After seeing the history laid bare in our video, it’s easy to understand why Eric Schneiderman and Bill Sorrell are fighting so hard to keep these records out of the public eye. Their problem is they are breaking the law in the process.”

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