RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's attorney general has failed to back up allegations that a former University of Virginia climate-change researcher defrauded state taxpayers to obtain government grants, a judge ruled Monday.
Retired Albemarle County Circuit Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. determined that the university can be subject to an investigation by Ken Cuccinelli. But Peatross found that Cuccinelli's two so-called "civil investigative demands," or administrative subpoenas, for Michael Mann's records fail to spell out the nature of Mann's alleged wrongdoing.
"What the Attorney General suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth is simply not stated," Peatross said in his ruling.
The ruling left open the door for Cuccinelli to try again, if the new request satisfies the legal requirements.
Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican and global-warming skeptic, alleges that Mann violated Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act by using manipulated data to obtain grants. The Charlottesville university had asked Peatross to dismiss those requests.
U.Va. had argued in court papers that Cuccinelli's actions could impair academic freedom and discourage scientific research. University officials and others also said the investigation was an attempt to take aim at Mann's conclusions rather than to uncover fraud, an allegation that Cuccinelli has denied.
Cuccinelli said in a statement Monday that his office plans to issue U.Va. a new request that conforms to the judge's ruling. The office also will weigh its options before deciding whether to appeal Monday's ruling.
A statement from U.Va. officials was pending, a university spokeswoman said Monday.
Cuccinelli sought documents and other information, including e-mails between Mann and other climate scientists. The materials are related to five research grants worth about $466,000 to Mann, who worked at the university from 1999 to 2005 and is now a professor at Penn State University.
Peatross said in his opinion that if four of the grants are determined to be federal awards, as U.Va. argued, they aren't subject to the investigation. The fifth was an internal grant of $214,700 awarded to Mann in 2001, before the anti-fraud law took effect in 2003. The judge ruled that Cuccinelli has the right to investigate if payments were made after 2003, and if Cuccinelli meets the statute's other requirements.
Global-warming deniers have targeted Mann for his research that shows that the earth's temperatures have risen steadily since the early 1900s. Other investigations have found no wrongdoing by Mann.