Late last week, a New York State Supreme justice, clearly frustrated with the shenanigans surrounding New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s #ExxonKnew crusade, “repeatedly expressed impatience with the length of the investigation,” as Courthouse News Service reported, and essentially told Schneiderman’s office that it’s about time they prove their investigation is legitimate.
During the court proceedings, after the New York AG’s office claimed they needed to obtain more documents from Exxon regarding its “proxy cost” of greenhouse gas emissions, Justice Barry Ostrager reminded them that they have been given no less than 2 million pages of documents, which included the “proxy cost” in the search terms. He pointed out, “You have engaged in a 16-month process requesting and receiving documents. You can’t start round two to produce documents all over again.”
If that’s not enough, the justice asked the AG’s office why it didn’t identify individuals who have information about implementation and disclosure of proxy costs and GHGs 12 to 16 months ago. He continued saying, if that had been done, “we would be 1000 yards ahead of where we are.” The justice finished by concluding: “I think you are wasting my time.”
That’s a pretty good question and may have something to do with the fact that Schneiderman’s office has continually changed its justification for its investigation. Exxon’s lawyers pointed this out, noting that first the investigation was about what Exxon supposedly knew about climate change in the 1970s; when that went absolutely nowhere, they turned to stranded assets. When that was a huge flop, they decided that Exxon was actually inflating the risks of climate change. It’s no wonder Justice Ostrager was losing his patience.
In the end, the AG’s office was given the ability to propose any interrogatories that conform to a reasonable standard, as well as the ability to depose anyone at ExxonMobil. Justice Ostrager also said they will update document production for the original subpoena through 2016, adding, “That is you all are reasonably entitled for.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen exasperation towards Schneiderman’s team from judges in court, either. Late last year a federal judge issued a discovery order first to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and later to Schneiderman to determine if the AGs used “bias and prejudgment” to launch a “bad faith” investigation into the company. During the hearing on the case, the lawyers representing Healey’s office claimed their subpoena was not political, but Judge Ed Kinkeade was less than convinced. As he put it, “like Al Gore wasn’t frickin’ involved!”
In his order, Judge Kinkeade asked “Are the two attorneys general trying to further their political agendas by using the vast power of the government to silence the voices of all those who disagree with them?” (emphasis added) These latest events in court only further confirm that the answer to that question is: yes.