GAO Files Suit against University of California Seeking Information on Law School Involvement with Climate Litigation Industry

University dragging its feet on details of work advising East Coast AG to prosecute “climate denialism”, fund climate tort litigation boiler room

LOS ANGELES, April 1, 2020 – Today the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO) filed suit against the Board of Regents of the University of California under California’s Public Records Act (CPRA). The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles by local counsel Jim Hunter, aims to compel the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Law School to respond to a request for documents shedding further light on the use of law enforcement to advance private interests. The suit also seeks records that would illuminate the school’s delay in handling the initial request.

The complaint seeks “records concerning the University’s work with private outside parties including law enforcement to develop theories of litigation against, and pursue as targets of investigation, perceived opponents of a political and policy agenda shared by these outside parties and certain faculty, and the University’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment for which they work.” It also notes, “[t]hat policy agenda is in the name of ‘climate change’, which is the basis for proposals to urgently redesign our national (and the global) economic and political/policymaking system and for siccing law enforcement on free speech in order to silence it, all in the name of planetary salvation.”

This role was first revealed in the agenda of an April 2016 “secret meeting” — according to one presenter — hosted by Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for “prospective funders” and attorneys general offices, released by the Vermont Office of Attorney General only after resisting in court for eighteen months. The secrecy of that pitch for “potential state causes of action against major carbon producers” is affirmed not only by that fight but by other documents obtained from California’s AG, and by UCS. At that secret meeting, UCLA’s Cara Horowitz advocated “climate”-related “Consumer protection claims” be brought against energy companies. The Massachusetts Office of Attorney General (OAG) sent five attorneys to this briefing, and subsequently filed a complaint against ExxonMobil for “potential violations of the Massachusetts consumer protection statute” which is now pending in a Massachusetts state court.

Ms. Horowitz is Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. This lawsuit seeks Ms. Horowitz’s correspondence with Massachusetts’ OAG following the meeting. It also seeks correspondence with “Dan Emmett”, to whom Ms. Horowitz boasted, in an email sent from the Harvard meeting, that the effort was “about going after climate denialism [sic]—along with a bunch of state and local prosecutors nationwide.” GAO learned of this in litigation with UCLA over a previous open-records stonewall. In that matter the University conjured a non-existent PRA exemption to hide discussions of “the Dan Ask”, which context indicates involved Emmett funding for subsequent Horowitz/Prof. Ann Carlson activities. This might refer to the real estate mogul who first underwrote the Emmett Center, or his son and renewable energy entrepreneur Daniel Emmett, who also is on its board.

The suit seeks the same correspondence from UCLA Prof. Ann Carlson, also a consultant for the tort litigation firm filing most of these “climate nuisance” suits. Possibly that complication relates to UCLA’s delay. As detailed in the complaint, UCLA hasn’t explained an apparent slow-walk.

Months later, the University still has produced only electronic case filing (ECF) notification emails which, by their nature, could not conceivably require delay for exclusion review for exempt material. After promising to release the substantive materials by a belated (and thoroughly) arbitrary date of March 26, 2020, UCLA instead cited to the novel coronavirus, and continued with its practice of merely releasing ECF notices, thereby continuing to withhold any correspondence between the faculty and their benefactors or with the Massachusetts AG, simply delaying the inevitable public education on key facts.

GAO attorney Chris Horner noted, “It is clear the University has been dragging its feet on releasing records about its role in the climate litigation industry, including its fundraising around that role, which has entailed recruiting law enforcement against opponents. Our past experiences with the University include attempts to hide this involvement by inventing a fictitious “donor strategy” exemption to CPRA – which argument the University ultimately abandoned, given it was an ad hoc fiction. The same mindset seems to have driven the handling of these requests.”

“The public has a right to know how its institutions are being deployed in this partnership with activists, donors and law enforcement to ‘go after’ opponents of their shared agenda,” said Horner.

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