Bill Sorrell, the former attorney general of Vermont, is ducking questions about his role in the #ExxonKnew campaign. Sorrell was due in a Burlington courthouse today for a deposition by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), but he was nowhere to be found and has now been ordered by the court to appear for a deposition. Though it’s unclear whether he skipped town for good, the former AG’s nonappearance raises new questions about what he and his successor are trying to hide.
Vermont Judge Mary Miles Teachout granted E&E Legal’s motion earlier this year to add Sorrell in his personal capacity to their litigation against the Vermont AG’s office. This has allowed the group to request emails Sorrell sent from his private Gmail account to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, which were part of their discussions on Schneiderman’s investigation of ExxonMobil.
The longtime Vermont AG was set to be deposed by E&E Legal’s attorneys this morning in Vermont about his participation in an investigation that has bizarrely accused ExxonMobil of both accurately understanding climate change and failing to accurately predict climate change.
In a statement, E&E Legal’s lead counsel Matthew Hardin said:
“Any first year law student understands you cannot ignore basic civil procedures like skipping a deposition if you are compelled, simply because you would prefer not to participate,” he said. “When you consider the fact that the individual in question is the former attorney general of an entire state, his failure to ignore the very rules he spent twenty years enforcing is unfathomable.”
Sorrell dodging his deposition could mean several things. Perhaps he doesn’t think he can sit through a round or two of questioning from attorneys without implicating himself, or maybe he doesn’t think he could do so without giving up information that would make it harder for Schneiderman and his fellow lurking AGs to prosecute ExxonMobil.
Notably, this evasive tactic is nothing new for the Vermont AG’s office. When E&E Legal initially requested that the office comply with public records laws, the AG’s office refused, claiming that every single thing the office did was protected by attorney-client privilege with the state of Vermont. The AG’s office also said that its decisions of whether to turn over public records are based not on what is required under the law, but rather on the results of a Google search . If the AG’s office feels that the requester will use the public records to hold them accountable for their actions, they refuse to turn those records over. The same policy governs the office’s response to public records requests submitted by the press:
“We get a request from EELI [E&E Legal] and so one thing we might consider is where are they—who are these people? Where are they going with this? And we Google them and we find, you know, coal or Exxon or whatever – and so we’re thinking this is – we better – we better give this some thought before we – before we share information with this entity. Or it might be a news organization and we think, well, what are they going to do with it? Well, they’re going to publish it to the world.”
Judge Teachout issued a ruling this afternoon granting E&E Legal’s motion to compel Sorrell to sit for a deposition. “One federal judge has already suggested that these AGs sure act like they’ve got something to hide,” said E&E Legal President Craig Richardson. “Today’s ‘dodge and weave’ behavior by William Sorrell, along with his former Office’s in Vermont and Eric Schneiderman’s in the New York courts, strongly suggests there is indeed much more embarrassing and quite possibly illegal contained in the records we seek.”