August 30, 2010 — August 30, 2010 — The University of Virginia was successful Monday in its bid to have two civil investigative demands issued by the Office of the Attorney General set aside.
Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. issued his six-page opinion 10 days after hearing arguments in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
At issue was whether U.Va. had to comply with the two civil investigative demands – or CIDs – from the Office of the Attorney General, which wants to investigate whether grants awarded to Michael Mann, a former U.Va. professor, were improperly obtained.
Mann, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University from 1999 to 2005, is known for his research on global warming. He has since joined the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University.
In a statement, the University expressed gratification at the ruling.
"The University's case was bolstered by strong support from its Board of Visitors, the University's faculty and the many individuals and groups around the country who let their voices be heard on this issue," the statement read.
The court agreed with the University that the attorney general had to have an objective "reason to believe" that the University had information relevant to a proper investigation and that the attorney general failed to sufficiently allege the "nature of the conduct" believed to have violated the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
Even after reviewing "with care" the attorney general's submissions, the court concluded that "it is not clear what [Mann] did that was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia." The court also noted that academic freedom should inform the propriety of an inquiry into the conduct of University faculty.
While Peatross granted the attorney general leave to issue new CIDs that comply with his ruling, the scope of any future inquiries by the attorney general will have to be substantially narrower than the CIDs set aside by the court, the University's statement said.
Peatross agreed with the University that, because four of the five grants covered in the CIDs were federal grants, they fell outside the attorney general's authority under state statute. "The Attorney General can only investigate funds paid by the Commonwealth for a grant to Dr. Mann," he wrote.
The court also agreed with the University that the attorney general could not investigate conduct that may have occurred before the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act became effective, on Jan. 1, 2003. Peatross' opinion stated that "any investigation has to be into acts of Dr. Mann to obtain state money after Jan. 1, 2003."