BURLINGTON, Vt. — Former state Attorney General William Sorrell bucked a day in court Wednesday, failing to appear for a scheduled deposition regarding a private email account he is suspected of using for his work with AGs United for Clean Power.
Energy & Environment Legal Institute has been prodding the attorney general’s office for communications relating to the group since April 2016, expecting to find a political agenda to bring down climate change skeptics.
AGs United for Clean Power was formed by attorneys general from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands with a mission to sue Exxon Mobil for allegedly cherry picking research on climate change.
Sorrell and the Vermont Office of Attorney General have repeatedly avoided complying with the records requests, even defying a July court order to turn over records. On Aug. 28, the office, now led by Attorney General TJ Donovan, responded to the court’s order by claiming no such records exist.
“After a court order, nearly a year of legal wrangling and constant stonewalling about records relating to former Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell’s involvement in the scandalous climate-RICO cabal exposed by E&E Legal, Sorrell has now defied the Court order joining him to the lawsuit and refused to show for a 10:00 a.m. deposition today in Burlington. He did so without permission or any ground to ignore the deposition under Vermont’s Civil Rules,” the Energy & Environment Legal Institute said in a news release Wednesday.
Specifically in question are Sorrell’s communications made using a private Gmail account, WHSorrell@gmail.com.
“You either shouldn’t use Gmail or you should turn over all your emails to the office,” E&E Legal Lead Attorney Matthew Hardin told True North. “This particular case has to do with certain key words such as ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming.”
According to Hardin, these inquiries likely include communication with the Democratic Attorneys General Association and other members of AGs United, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Hardin traveled from Virginia to Vermont to appear this morning in Burlington, where Sorrell lives. Hardin said the legal institute received a letter and phone message from Sorrell’s office stating he wasn’t planning to attend.
Sorrell’s office asked the court for permission not to show up, but permission wasn’t granted. Judge Mary Teachout, of the Vermont Superior Court in Washington County, denied Sorrell’s Motion to Quash his deposition and his Motion to Dismiss. She also granted a motion by the legal institute to compel the former attorney general to give testimony.
“He skipped a deposition,” Hardin said. “The judge ordered him joined to a lawsuit because he was the was the attorney general when records were created, and it wasn’t clear that he turned over all of his records to the attorney general’s office when he left. So he might still have those records personally.”
Hardin said his group will file a motion with the court to seek appropriate penalties. As a result of Sorrell’s absence, the court has the discretion to assume that the answer to the question of whether he failed to turn over all the required communications is “yes,” he added.
“He’s obviously hiding something because he’s not answering questions about what he did,” Hardin said. “I think somebody needs to explain to the attorney general that he’s not above the law and that the rules of civil procedure apply to him just like they do anybody else.”
While a civil case does not usually involve criminal penalties, Sorrell faces potential monetary penalties. Moreover, Vermont’s Public Records Act provides for penalties including contempt of court, which may involve criminal penalties.