| Wikimedia, the Commons

Virgin Islands AG withdraws subpoena of climate skeptic group

U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker plans to withdraw his subpoena for 10 years' worth of documents from the libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute relating to the group's advocacy work on climate change.

Linda Singer, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Walker's office in the proceedings, emailed CEI's legal counsel on May 13, stating that, while the original request for documents does not violate the group's First Amendment rights, the Virgin Islands Department of Justice "will revoke issuance" of its subpoena "within the next 5 court days."

Singer's email also said the Virgin Islands DOJ "will reissue the subpoena," should it "move to compel" CEI's "compliance with the subpoena in its current form."  She also indicated that Walker's office would not pay any "fees and costs" associated with CEI's legal defense.

On March 29, Walker joined with a group of Democratic state attorneys general seeking an investigation into whether oil, gas, and coal companies had fraudulently misled their investors and the general public on the risks of global climate change.

Prior to that meeting, on March 15, Walker's office issued a subpoena to Exxon Mobil Corp. seeking documents dating  to 1977 on its relationship and communications with nearly 90 conservative and free-market groups and their work on climate change.

CEI, one of the groups named in the Exxon subpoena, was served on April 8.

In a statement posted on CEI's website, the group's general counsel, Sam Kazman, said Walker's subpoena was an attempt to "shut down debate" on climate change.

"Mr. Walker’s statement that he will end his D.C. court action, but may launch a new one whenever the mood strikes him, is the height of arrogance and demonstrates that he still doesn’t recognize the harm he has unlawfully inflicted," Kazman said. 

On Monday, CEI said it intends to ask the District of Columbia Superior Court to fine Walker "for violating the organization’s First Amendment rights under the District of Columbia’s anti-SLAPP law, and for attorneys’ fees and other sanctions."

In its court filing, CEI contends its advocacy is protected under a District of Columbia statute that prevents others from filing so-called "strategic lawsuits against public participation," or "SLAPP lawsuits.

According to the Public Participation Project, a group advocating for federal legislation against SLAPP suits, they are used to "silence and harass critics," by "draining the target’s financial resources."