Posts Tagged ‘subpoenas’

August 30 roundup

Media law roundup

“Orleans Parish prosecutors are using fake subpoenas”

Seems incredible: the district attorney’s office in the county-equivalent that includes New Orleans sends out bogus subpoenas not actually cleared with a judge ordering witnesses to appear for investigations. A spokesman says it’s been done for decades. Following press inquiries, “the District Attorney’s Office has said the practice will end.” [The Lens (New Orleans)]

Police roundup

  • Investigation of problems with no-knock “dynamic entry” police raids [Kevin Sack, New York Times; cf. Radley Balko’s work] But her living room furniture was just sitting there! Why shouldn’t we take it? [C.J. Ciaramella on Mississippi case]
  • Minnesota judge approves (which doesn’t mean Google will go along with) police demand for all search records on a certain name from any and all users in town of Edina [Mike Mullen, City Pages]
  • “The L.A. County sheriff wants to release names of 300 deputies with histories of misconduct. He can’t.” [Jessica Pishko, Slate; Tim Cushing, TechDirt (list is of cops considered highly impeachable in court testimony)]
  • Just catching up with this still-relevant Joshua Muravchik critique of Black Lives Matter [Commentary]
  • Feds indict seven members of elite Baltimore police gun trace task force on racketeering charges; underlying predicates include robbery, swearing out false search warrants, false overtime claims (“one hour can be eight hours.”) [U.S. Department of Justice, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post]
  • “New Orleans Police Chief Says He Needs to Hire and Fire Commanders at Will to Protect Reforms” [Ed Krayewski]

January 18 roundup

  • Another day, another lawsuit charging a social media company with material support for terrorism. This time it’s Twitter and IS attacks in Paris, Brussels [Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare; Tim Cushing, Techdirt] More: And yet another (Dallas police officer versus Twitter, Facebook, and Google; listed as one of the filing attorneys is 1-800-LAW-FIRM, no kidding, complaint h/t Eric Goldman);
  • “Woman Sues Chipotle for $2 Billion for Using a Photo of Her Without Consent” [Petapixel]
  • “Hot-Yoga Guy and His Cars Are Missing” [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • From Backpage.com to unpopular climate advocacy, state attorneys general use subpoena power to punish and chill [Ilya Shapiro]
  • Dept. of awful ideas: California assemblyman proposes registry of hate crime offenders [Scott Shackford]
  • But oh, so worth it otherwise: “Not one Kansas state senator is a lawyer, making compliance with obscure statute impossible” [ABA Journal]

Environment roundup

  • Subpoena turnabout not fair play: Congressional Republicans investigating state AGs’ climate advocacy probe are lobbing subpoenas at private enviro groups that urged the anti-speech campaign. Knock it off, two wrongs don’t make right [Eli Lehrer and earlier] “You don’t need complicated models to figure out what happens when governments censor speech. The evidence on that question is solid.” [Steve Simpson]
  • And speaking of fraud in policy advocacy (whatever that may mean) some varieties of it are plainly going to have no legal consequences whatsoever [Matt Welch channeling Virginia Postrel on California political class and high-speed rail]
  • Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette says 40 anti-pipeline activists gathered and beat on the front door of his home for 30 minutes with his wife alone there [Detroit News]
  • Pro-nuclear demonstrators blockade Greenpeace office in San Francisco, but wouldn’t the ultimate way to protest an odious environmental group be to respect the property rights of all concerned? [SFist]
  • “It’s a shotgun approach”: injury lawyers find many defendants to blame after Flint public water fiasco [NPR via Renee Krake, Legal Ethics Forum]
  • “District court voids Obama administration fracking regulations” [Jonathan Adler, Alden Abbott]

Climate advocacy subpoenas, III

  • “…the open, naked promise to use prosecutorial powers as a political weapon is a prima facie abuse of office. In a self-respecting society, every one of those state attorneys general would have been impeached the next day.” [National Review editorial]
  • Lefty foundations funded investigative report that kicked off the prosecute-climate-deniers push, and even funded the group that then gave an award to that ostensibly independent report [Jon Henke, earlier on Columbia School of Journalism role here and here; Jillian Kay Melchior on Inside Climate News]
  • Grand public announcement by attorneys general and former Vice President Al Gore made no mention of huddles with Rockefeller philanthropies that led up to it [Reuters; summaries of conversations via pro-CEI public records request]
  • Major angle not yet widely publicized is that ALEC, hugely demonized on Left, likely to be in cross hairs: “In his remarks, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh made a point of adding … [the] American Legislative Exchange Council as potential targets.” [Climate Investigations]
  • What’s private class action law firm Cohen Milstein doing in the middle of all this? Three guesses [National Review editorial; note “place of production” commanded in subpoena text]
  • “Climate Investigations” website seeks to promote idea of giving private lawyers what could prove wildly lucrative contingent-fee role in crusade against climate deniers; note that such private lawyers not only drove tobacco Medicaid recoupment litigation from the start, but (a tale told in Chapter 1 of my book The Rule of Lawyers) helped shape the epic corruption of that tobacco caper;
  • Reactions by the targets: a statement from incoming CEI president Kent Lassman vows to fight; “Exxon Fires Back at Climate-Change Probe” [WSJ; AP/U.S. News via Virgin Islands Free Press on move to quash subpoena]
  • “Federal law makes it a felony ‘for two or more persons to agree together to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).'” It doesn’t exempt state attorneys general [Glenn Reynolds, USA Today]

Earlier generally here and specifically on the subpoena of the Competitive Enterprise Institute here and here.

More on the CEI subpoena

As we noted on Friday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, more recently joined by several other state attorneys general, has pursued an investigation of the ExxonMobil corporation and its links to “climate denial” that has now resulted in a subpoena (from the attorney general of the U. S. Virgin Islands, Claude E. Walker) demanding ten years’ worth of internal documents from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI, which issued a statement last week (with the text of the subpoena) vowing to resist the legal attack, has a further statement and links here; CEI’s Myron Ebell also recorded a Cato podcast (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up”) with interviewer Caleb Brown.

Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View, calls the new developments “an attempt to criminalize advocacy”:

State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions — some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok….

The rule of law, and our norms about free speech, represent a sort of truce between both sides. We all agree to let other people talk, because we don’t want to live in a world where we ourselves are not free to speak. Because we do not want to be silenced by an ambitious prosecutor, we should all be vigilant when ambitious prosecutors try to silence anyone else.

Hans von Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation:

This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition. It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials who are willing to exploit their power to achieve ideological ends….

Given the coalition that has been formed by state attorneys general to conduct a grand inquisition against climate change deniers, this subpoena from the Virgin Islands attorney general is probably just the first assault in their quasi-religious war against unbelievers. Researchers, scientists, think tanks, universities, and anyone else who works or speaks in this area should be aware that they may soon become a target of these malicious investigations.

Hans Bader of CEI, at Law and Liberty:

As the Washington state supreme court noted in Rickert v. State Pub. Disclosure Commission (2007), our forefathers “did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us” in the realm of politics.

A sobering aspect of the state AGs’ crusade is what is taking place outside of courtrooms: they are pressuring companies to cut off donations to nonprofit groups that employ “climate-change deniers.” … New York’s and California’s attorneys general have investigated Exxon for making donations to think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council. Schneiderman complains that these two specifically are “even more aggressive climate change deniers” than the run of the mill. (Ironically, while these large organizations include a few people labeled as “climate change deniers,” they focus mostly on issues having nothing to do with climate change.)

…even if being a “climate change denier” were a crime (rather than constitutionally protected speech, as it in fact is), a donation to a nonprofit that employs such a person would not be a crime.

In February we noted Bader’s strong argument that a “prolonged investigation in response to someone’s speech can violate the First Amendment” in itself even when “eventually dropped without imposing any fine or disciplinary action.”

I’m also quoted in a piece in Vermont Watchdog by Michael Bielawski and Bruce Parker that came out just before the subpoena report, on some of the issues in the investigation.

CEI subpoenaed over climate wrongthink

The campaign to attach legal consequences to supposed “climate denial” has now crossed a fateful line:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.” More coverage of the subpoena at the Washington Times and Daily Caller.

A few observations:

  • If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.
  • This article in the Observer details the current push to expand the probe of climate advocacy, which first enlisted New York AG Eric Schneiderman and then California’s Kamala Harris, into a broader coalition of AGs, with Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands just having signed on. More than a dozen others, such as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, seem to be signaling support but have not formally jumped in. More: Peggy Little, Federalist Society.
  • CEI people, many of them longtime friends of this site, have been active critics of the Schneiderman effort, with Hans Bader, a senior attorney there, highly critical just a week ago.
  • In these working groups of attorneys general, legal efforts are commonly parceled out among the states in a deliberate and strategic way, with particular tasks being assigned to AGs who have comparative advantage in some respect (such as an unusually favorable state law to work with, or superior staff expertise or media access). Why would one of the most politically sensitive tasks of all — opening up a legal attack against CEI, a long-established nonprofit well known in Washington and in libertarian and conservative ideological circles — be assigned to the AG from a tiny and remote jurisdiction? Is it that a subpoena coming from the Virgin Islands is logistically inconvenient to fight in some way, or that local counsel capable of standing up to this AG are scarce on the ground there, or that a politician in the Caribbean is less exposed to political backlash from CEI’s friends and fans than one in a major media center? Or what?
  • I recommend checking out the new Free Speech and Science Project, which intends to fight back against criminalization of advocacy by, among other things, organizing legal defense and seeking to hold officials accountable for misusing the law to attack advocacy.
  • This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

[cross-posted at Cato at Liberty and reprinted at FEE; see also new Cato podcast with CEI’s Myron Ebell (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up.”)]