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Four groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the University of Virginia’s request to set aside Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation into the records of climatologist Michael Mann, a former U.Va. professor.

In addition to the ACLU, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Association of University Professors, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression signed onto the brief, filed Tuesday in Albemarle County Circuit Court.

“If the court permits the attorney general to gain access to the private communications among scientists whenever he disagrees with their ideas, the scientists will simply stop sharing their ideas,” said Kent Willis, ACLU of Virginia executive director. “The chilling effect on academic freedom and scientific inquiry is incalculable.”

But Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Cuccinelli, wrote in an e-mail that their argument in the case has not changed.

“The legal standards for the misuse of taxpayer dollars apply the same at universities as they do at any other agency of state government,” he wrote. “This is about rooting out possible fraud and not about infringing upon academic freedom.”

In April, Cuccinelli issued civil investigative demands, akin to a subpoena, seeking information on five taxpayer-funded grants, as well as a wide range of documentation related to Mann, who was cleared of research misconduct in the “Climategate” scandal by a Penn State panel last month.

Arguments on the university’s request to set aside the demands are scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. in Charlottesville.

Washington Examiner, 17 August 2010