MONTPELIER, Vt. — Despite a state court ruling last month that the attorney general’s office must release records regarding AGs United for Clean Power, the office has again refused to deliver former Attorney General William Sorrell’s Gmail correspondence with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, setting the stage for more lawsuits.
On July 27, Vermont Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout ruled that a “common interest” agreement among 17 Democrat AGs to withhold certain public documents does not amount to any exemption from records requests.
From that ruling, the office was given 30 days to hand over documents requested by the Washington, D.C.-based Energy & Environment Legal Institute. Donovan’s office nonetheless has denied E&E Legal’s appeal of the refusal to hand over Sorrell’s email communications with New Schneiderman, considered the leader of the mostly defunct climate change coalition.
“It’s 16 months in and we’ve won several rulings and still have no documents,” E&E Legal Institute counsel Matthew Hardin told True North Reports on Monday. “Hopefully they’ll reply and answer the court more forthrightly than they’ve answered us.”
E&E Legal also requested those communications from the New York State Office of the Attorney General and received a similar denial. According to E&E Legal, representatives at Vermont’s office have acknowledged that they “consulted with the New York Attorney General’s Office” regarding their decision.
“OAG is refusing to search for records on a non-official [a]count we have already demonstrated to the courts the former AG used for work,” Hardin said in a Monday news release. “Simultaneously, New York also refused to search an account we have established Eric Schneiderman used for this purpose.
“Both offices employed wording revealing a shared objective of trying not to deny the request, while refusing to gain custody of records the public owns, which are being kept from the public and their proper government custodian, despite laws against this.”
Representatives at the Vermont attorney general’s office did not return True North’s request for comment.
According to the news release, not only did the Vermont attorney general’s office deny access to Sorrell’s Gmail account, but leaders also declared their servers to have “no records” regarding search terms requested by E&E Legal.
Search terms included ‘Frumhoff,’ for Peter Frumhoff, known for his participation with Union of Concerned Scientists. Another term is ‘Pawa,’ for Matt Pawa, a lawyer for the Climate Accountability Institute.
Hardin said if records were destroyed it could result in legal consequences.
“There are statutes that prevent him from removing or destroying records without permission of the state archivists,” Hardin told True North. “It’s something that we brought up in our pleadings before.”
Sorrell sent a “cease and desist” letter to E&E Legal’s local counsel, Brady Toensing, specifying that any further inquiries for him must be processed through his lawyer.
Hardin said it’s not clear who’s representing Sorrell. Sorrell referred E&E Legal to William Griffin, Vermont’s chief assistant attorney general. Hardin said when E&E contacted Griffin, the group was told the office was not representing Sorrell.
“Does TJ Donovan want to tie himself to Bill Sorrell’s record?” Hardin said, adding that E&E Legal will continue to fight for records that should be available for public scrutiny.
The Monday statement from the legal institute notes that Sorrell is now “being sued personally in two Vermont cases for failing to comply with the law about preserving public records on the state email system.”
It adds: “It is unfortunate that a former prosecutor, for two decades the chief law enforcement officer in the State of Vermont, has had such a hard time complying with Vermont law.”
Hardin noted the taxpayers have to pick up the legal fees for this case, which he said are “going up every day.”