Michael Mann’s ‘damages’ over FOIA emails? A piddling $250

From ‘amazing tales of the vexatious’. Climate Change Dispatch writes:

In a clear slap in the face, the Virginia Supreme Court awarded Michael E. Mann and the University of Virginia a piddling $250 in damages in the email FOIA case. Showing the triviality of the manner, the court’s order (shown here) didn’t even specify the rationale for the derisory amount.

From The Daily Reporter:

The court’s recent order only states the amount of damages that the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute must pay. It doesn’t provide details about the rationale behind the award.

The institute sued in 2011 after U.Va. refused to turn over emails requested by the nonprofit conservative group under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The Supreme Court rejected the group’s attempt to obtain the emails in April, saying retired Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan was right when he ruled that Mann’s emails were exempt from the law because they were proprietary records dealing with scholarly research.

Of course Mann’s incredible ego won’t allow him to see this as a slap in the face, he comments in The Daily Reporter:

“The damages in my view are symbolic,” Mann told The Daily Progress (http://bit.ly/1raJi0m) “What is important is not the $250 itself but the recognition by the court of the frivolous and pernicious nature of the (institute’s) suit.”

Mann, who is now a professor and researcher at Penn State University, said he planned to donate his award to the Climate Science Defense Fund. He said the fund exists “to assist scientists being attacked this way.”

What’s Mann’s hyperinflated ego can’t seem to assimilate, are these facts:

  • FOIA is a law, it was put in place specifically so that taxpayer money couldn’t be used for government business without public disclosure. It is not the same as “don’t ask, don’t tell” which is what Mann seems to think applies to his work, IMHO.
  • Because it is a law, it is a right to pursue. Asking for work correspondence and work product funded on the taxpayer’s dime is fair game, no matter what the judge says, IMHO.
  • If Mann had no issues with the contents of those emails, we wouldn’t see him fighting so hard to protect them. This business about him doing it “for the greater good of science” is a load of bullpuckey to give him hero status, IMHO.
  • As we’ve seen in the climategate emails, and more recently in the peer review ring busted and in The PNAS ‘old boys’ club’, the process of science and peer review seems to be more political, than logical.  One wonders what sort of similar examples exist that have yet to be discovered.
  • Mann is the only climate scientist to launch personal lawsuits against others, there seems to be no examples of the reverse from climate skeptics, personally suing Michael Mann or his peers. The idea of the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund”, purportedly setup specifically for Mann, seems to be more about offense, than defense.

If I were ATI, I’d send him that $250 in pennies, which is fully legal tender, but also speaks to the triviality of Mann’s complaint, and the fact that the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” isn’t about defense as much as it is offense.

UPDATE: From David Schnare, General Counsel, Energy & Environment Legal Institute

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the $250 “damages” assessed by the Court. Any appellant that loses their appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court has to make this payment to the opposing party. It is generally intended to pay for the costs of printing of briefs. It does not include attorney’s fees or any other costs. Mann won’t get a cent. It all goes to the University who may or may not have to transfer it to the Attorney General’s coffers since that is who represented the University and who had to pay for preparation of their briefs.

More importantly, this is not all over. The court only decided the meaning of the term “of a proprietary nature” and they took our (plaintiffs) definition verbatim. They just refused to admit that which was their way of denying us our costs and fees. (We used over $300,000 worth of our time on this case, and thousands of dollars in costs.) What the court did not do was to discuss the rest of the “research exemptions” and that will come up with the next case that is already in the pipeline. That FOIA is seeking all emails associated with John Daly, Steve McIntyre and the IPCC. As none of those were collected by or for the faculty in pursuit of a research project sponsored by UVA, they should not be subject to being withheld. We will see what slimy games the University next plays to prevent the release of those documents. We’ll keep you informed.

 

 

 

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84 thoughts on “Michael Mann’s ‘damages’ over FOIA emails? A piddling $250

  1. Meh. A loss would have been better than a win, no matter how trivial. We all owe a great debt if gratitude to the courageous and principled Mark Steyn, the man who just might finally hold this coward’s feet to the fire.

  2. The hit to his wallet is nothing compared to the hit to his credibility. Guilty as charged: priceless

  3. Better yet, Pay him in Vietnamese Dong.
    The Dong is valued at 171,430 Dong to the Dollar
    That would be 42,857,500
    Lets round it to 43 million Dong in single dong notes

  4. Pay him the smallest denomination Zimbabwe currency available. Probably weigh more than pennies.

  5. Bryan A says: “Better yet, Pay him in Vietnamese Dong.”

    Leaving aside the obvious “sweets to the sweet” comment, foreign currency or coin is NOT legal tender. Now, I have heard of a fine being paid in US pennies, yes. But I’ve also heard of a judge calling such a payment “contempt of court.” and giving the defendant an additional penalty involving bad food and worse company. So let’s drop the comments about being witty when paying fines that you can’t pay, anyway. If you want, you can contribute an equivalent amount to Energy & Environmental Legal Institute by check.

  6. Does the award of damages leave Energy & Environmental Legal Institute (the loser) liable for the court costs of the winners (Mann and UVA)? If so, this is a loss.

  7. If I were ATI, I’d send him that $250 in pennies, which is fully legal tender, but also speaks to the triviality of Mann’s complaint, and the fact that the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” isn’t about defense as much as it is offense.

    The shipping charges could be significant.

  8. In the UK it WAS legal to write a check (Cheque) on anything as long as that item is legally owned and transferred to the issuing bank .. There have been even been cheques written on paving slabs, a cow and host of other ‘annoying’ items.

    Paving slab? Imaging someone struggling with that to the bank.

  9. Don’t hold grudges, just pay nicely. Don’t give them any reason to hate you more.

  10. The amount is $250 to Mann and the University of Virginia. So do they have to split the difference and each get $125 or do they both get $250? The court order is very vague (likely intentionally).

  11. A mixed result, to be sure.

    The legal costs would have been at least a thousand times $250. The judge was sending a message – why are you people wasting the Court’s time with this?

    Agree with those above who say the the awarding of costs is the only material financial issue – but if I understand these things correctly, in US civil cases parties usually just have to suck up their own costs.

  12. johanna says:
    July 15, 2014 at 11:04 am
    ….
    Agree with those above who say the the awarding of costs is the only material financial issue – but if I understand these things correctly, in US civil cases parties usually just have to suck up their own costs.
    —-
    Do I detect another FOIA request as to the costs of this to the US taxpayer ?

  13. I think this article is confused. ATI was the appellant, so they were the ones trying to get the judgement reversed. And how likely is it the the Virginia Supreme Court — which went out of its way to protect the University and Mann from FOI requests — would turn around and slap them in the face? I think the slap from the court is directed at ATI. I haven’t read the court documents, so I don’t know for sure what the award is all about, but it seems quite strange that an organization pursuing an FOI request in the court should have damages assessed them. Any claim that the original suit was frivolous is, in my opinion, completely ridiculous.

  14. Believe it or not, there are severe limits on how much change can constitute legal tender. IIRC, the limit on pennies is 20 cents and the limit on dimes is 10$ (or something similar).

    What this means is that if you get a ton of pennies you can refuse payment and legally demand the “accptable” amount. (When pennies were actually bronze and dimes, quarters, etc. were silver, this was not so much of an issue, of course.)

  15. Withhold payment and let him go to court to get it if he really wants it. NB. I have zero legal expertise.

  16. If you really want to have fun with the payment, have a check engraved into a large piece of stone such as granite. As long as all the required information is on the check it is also considered legal payment.

  17. Sad to a spin in this issue, It is imaterial if it is $250.
    Someone asking for a FOIA is punished for damages by the Court.

    The State secrets are protected. Now that the Left controls the State(Governement) expect the many FOIA’s getting a sudden death.

  18. Your third bullet is poor reasoning. It’s similar to the government spying on you and telling you it’s okay if you have nothing to hide, and as false. I don’t like the obfuscation of Mann, but I like that reasoning even less.

  19. Brian R says:
    July 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm
    If you really ant to have fun with the payment, have a check engraved into a large piece of stone such as granite. As long as all the required information is on the check it is also considered legal payment.

    Oh gosh, I’m rather afraid that if you paid him via a granite cheque, he would sue again, and this time he’d have concrete evidence. :)

  20. Ima says:
    July 15, 2014 at 10:25 am

    > Pennies is a bad idea. It implies being spiteful. Take the high road.

    And include a press conference on the courthouse steps. I assume the payment needs to go through the court system so they have proof it was made. Even if it doesn’t, have the press conference. Put on some talks, face paint some kids, have a fine old time.

  21. go back to the original lower court decision.

    http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/state-supreme-court-academic-emails-can-be-withheld/article_71349c92-c64d-11e3-a609-0017a43b2370.html

    it upheld Sheridan’s ruling basically saying unpublished research is protected from foi due to its proprietary nature.

    Very bad loss and it will require yet more lawsuits in the future to split the hairs between protecting proprietary research versus the interest of tax-payer investments.

  22. “The damages in my view are symbolic,” Mann told The Daily Progress

    Indeed and it is clear what the judge wanted to symbolise. Something very, very small.

  23. evanmjones says:
    July 15, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Believe it or not, there are severe limits on how much change can constitute legal tender. IIRC, the limit on pennies is 20 cents and the limit on dimes is 10$ (or something similar).

    I’ve read that too.

  24. Oh come on. This, I am sorry to say, is nothing less than a victory for Mann and his belief that his work is not subject to scrutiny. How can you take delight in the fact that he was only awarded $250? When Mann says that the amount is not important, he is absolutely right. Had to give this post 1 star for monumentally missing the point.

  25. hmmmm
    evanmjones says:

    July 15, 2014 at 11:38 am
    “…..When pennies were actually bronze…”

    just curious when US pennies were bronze? I was under the impression that they were copper until the war in which they were switched to zinc, as copper was prioritized for other uses, then the composition was changed in “recent years” to a cheaper mix as copper was too expensive.

  26. policycritic said “Write the cheque out on a hockey stick.”

    Brilliant !

    That gets my vote.

  27. In any regard, this is a loss. Someone asking for information under FOIA is fined by a court? Loss. Possible liability for Mann’s and UVA’s court costs (legal fees)? Big loss. Expense to the taxpayers? Big loss? Accountability from government? Big loss.

  28. Many years ago, certainly, the UK allowed cheques to be written – exactly as
    Man Bearpig says:
    July 15, 2014 at 10:55 am
    on all sorts of portable(-ish) property.

    ‘Misleading cases’ – by AP Herbert, from the 1960s – exemplified this. With humour.

    Maybe this still applies. maybe not.

    CAVEAT.
    My legal training is pretty minimal.
    CAVEAT.

    For the instant case, I caution about paying in small denominations. Maybe five crisp fifties, with a birthday/wedding anniversary/work anniversary card, which ever is nearest.

    Auto

  29. Damages in this context is a very specific term of art, applicable to appeals court process, not damages in the normal legal sense.

    It basically means that the loser needs to pay some of the winners paperwork costs in this type of case. Afaik it doesn’t say anything more as to merits of the appeal beyond the existing judgement – I.e. Appeal denied.

    Mann’s claim that this is a slap in the face of ati is exaggerated, and Mr watts you should not take it at face value.

  30. According to Snopes.com, pennies in all amounts are legal tender. Snopes says:

    Up until the late 19th century, pennies and nickels weren’t legal tender at all. The Coinage Acts of 1873 and 1879 made them legal tender for debts up to 25 cents only, while the other fractional coins (dimes, quarters, and half dollars) were legal tender for amounts up to $10. This remained the law until the Coinage Act of 1965 specified that all U.S. coins are legal tender in any amount.

    The site notes that,

    However, even in cases where legal tender has been agreed to as a form of payment, private businesses are still free to specify which forms of legal tender they will accept. If a shop doesn’t want to take any currency larger than $20 bills, or they don’t want to take pennies at all, or they want to be paid in nothing but dimes, they’re entitled to do so (but, as mentioned earlier, they should specify their payment policies before entering into transactions with buyers).

    I doubt that’s true of court-award damages; so assuming Snopes is correct and there’s not a separate rule that applies to damages, the debt could probably be paid in pennies.

  31. Moderator, you may want to put this up just below the article.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about the $250 “damages” assessed by the Court. Any appellant that loses their appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court has to make this payment to the opposing party. It is generally intended to pay for the costs of printing of briefs. It does not include attorney’s fees or any other costs. Mann won’t get a cent. It all goes to the University who may or may not have to transfer it to the Attorney General’s coffers since that is who represented the University and who had to pay for preparation of their briefs.

    More importantly, this is not all over. The court only decided the meaning of the term “of a proprietary nature” and they took our (plaintiffs) definition verbatim. They just refused to admit that which was their way of denying us our costs and fees. (We used over $300,000 worth of our time on this case, and thousands of dollars in costs.) What the court did not do was to discuss the rest of the “research exemptions” and that will come up with the next case that is already in the pipeline. That FOIA is seeking all emails associated with John Daly, Steve McIntyre and the IPCC. As none of those were collected by or for the faculty in pursuit of a research project sponsored by UVA, they should not be subject to being withheld. We will see what slimy games the University next plays to prevent the release of those documents. We’ll keep you informed.

    David Schnare
    General Counsel
    Energy & Environment Legal Institute

  32. “We will see what slimy games the University next plays to prevent the release of those documents. We’ll keep you informed.”

    I expect a large amount of hard drives suddenly crashed at the university, with all the archives of all the emails that pertained to the request on them.

  33. Earnest Hemingway once received an offer of $100,000 from a Hollywood producer for the movie rights to one of his books. Hemingway cabled him back with the suggestion that the producer change the hundred thousand into nickels and pound it up his ass.

    Phil

  34. UPDATE: From David Schnare, General Counsel, Energy & Environment Legal Institute

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about the $250 “damages” assessed by the Court. Any appellant that loses their appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court has to make this payment to the opposing party. It is generally intended to pay for the costs of printing of briefs. It does not include attorney’s fees or any other costs. Mann won’t get a cent. It all goes to the University who may or may not have to transfer it to the Attorney General’s coffers since that is who represented the University and who had to pay for preparation of their briefs.

    =====================================================================
    Thanks for the update.
    I liked the idea of paying in pennies. I was about to suggest that the 25,000 pennies be divided by the days left to pay and sending that amount each day or paying in those store coupons that say in the fine print they are worth 1/100 of a cent. (That might require some crowd sourcing. 8-)
    Keep the tree rings burning!

  35. Keep him in the sport light , keep him under pressure and watch him blow . Mann will do much good work for the very people he hates. And when he falls , its not just sceptics that will line up to kick him on the way down, such is the ‘quality’ of Mann.

  36. My bet is the court isn’t going to view childish shenanigans such as paying in pennies with any humor.

    Don’t play childish games. First, you don’t want to anger the court. Second, you don’t want to stoop to Mann’s level.

  37. OK, so this guy’ work is no longer subject to scrutiny, in the scientific sense. Why should I ever give any thought to any further research he does?

    Mann screwed himself. He now arbitrates his research. And if he can’t play by the same rules as all other scientists, hopefully his grant funds will dry up.

    As a scientist I will not give second thought that there might be something useful in anything he claims as research. If he cannot open his data and research methodologies to the scientific community…. screw him.

    Science lurches backwards.

  38. Mr. Layman here.
    My impression of information being “proprietary” has been that there is a patent or copyright or some such that the “proprietor” is making money from or in some other way profiting.
    How does that word legally or scientifically apply to Mann’s research?
    Hiding personal stuff in the emails I can understand. But this?

  39. It may be small, but that’s $250 I could put to good use. At least until that check from BigOil (TM) appears in my mailbox… someday.

  40. so, a $300,000 dollar loss and mike can claim vindication and another exoneration.
    is there an estimate on what it cost mr mann?
    fighting and winning are so very different.

  41. I was under the impression that they were copper until the war in which they were switched to zinc, as copper was prioritized for other uses, then the composition was changed in “recent years” to a cheaper mix as copper was too expensive.

    Pennies (techinically 1-cent pieces; “penny” is a borrowed, non-technical term) were bronze. The first “small cents” were the Indian Heads (now, that was inflation, going from large to small). In 1943, a steel cent was issued. In 1944 – 1945, they were copper (from melted shell casings), then in 1946, they reverted to bronze, and in 1982, they went over to zinc. (Interestingly, there are both bronze and zinc 1982 cents).

    In WWII, nickels were 20% silver (1942 – 1945) and had different and highly distinct mint marks. Like the copper in 1943, they needed the nickel for the war effort.

  42. Man Bearpig says: July 15, 2014 at 10:55 am
    “In the UK it WAS legal to write a check (Cheque) on anything as long as that item is legally owned and transferred to the issuing bank .. There have been even been cheques written on paving slabs, a cow and host of other ‘annoying’ items.”

    Regretfully I must advise that the “Case of the Negotiable Cow” would not hold up in a modern court in the UK. Read:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Board_of_Inland_Revenue_v_Haddock

    and enjoy.

  43. I find it outrageous that we can’t use FOIA like the left can. it looks to me like its a political tool created mainly for the benefit of the left.

    I hope someday somebody hacks Mann’s UVA emails and puts them up on the web…

  44. philjourdan says:
    “At $250, that is $249.95 too much. Mann is not worth a plugged nickle.”

    Agreed. But I’d pay more than that right now to see the emails this little prig has spent half of his career hiding from the taxpayers who funded him. This pissant belongs in prison. I’d be more than happy to help pay for his bus ticket.

  45. Only you could turn an ignominious defeat into some sort of victory. You lost. Own it.

    The law was designed to ensure accountability and transparency from government officials. It wasn’t designed so that fossil fuel funded front groups could harass academics to turn over their private emails.

    I’m all for getting academics to release their data to ensure that appropriate methodology has been used and results are robust. But this garbage is just plain harassment.

    Any and all of you would fight tooth and nail if a FOI request was made for your private email correspondence.

  46. Quick, pay him with the circular stone disks once used as currency in the Pacific South Sea Islands before they are all inundated by the rising oceans!

  47. M Mann won this round. Play it straight – just pay, don’t provide ammunition for diversionary tactics.
    Then work on the next round.

  48. This a victory for Mann, not a slap in the face. The value isn’t in the settlement. It’s in his stealing of taxpayer money without penalty.

  49. Siberian, the $250 award doesn’t pay for one hour of one attorney’s time. Mann’s side lost serious money. Look up “Pyrrhic victory”
    A few more victories and he’ll be bankrupt.

  50. Siberian_Husky ‘
    private email correspondence.’

    Since when did e-mails about the job your employed by the public dollar to do become ‘private ‘ ?

  51. The definition guy says:

    July 15, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    “Siberian, the $250 award doesn’t pay for one hour of one attorney’s time. Mann’s side lost serious money. Look up “Pyrrhic victory”
    A few more victories and he’ll be bankrupt.”

    Possibly, except I strongly suspect that it was the University that was paying for his defence since as I understand it he was fighting a FOI request (although I could be wrong as I havent been following this closely).

    So in other words probably using public dollars to defend himself from spurious FOI requests.

    Oh the irony.

    • @Siberian Husky – Mann was not employed at the university at the time of the request, so it would have both been illegal and unethical for them to pay his bills.

      As it was, he was not a party to the initial suit, and only entered it to stick his nose into things. The case was always with UVA, not Mann.

      Soros paid his legal bills.

  52. Mann is correct here. It is a symbolic win. And I, for one, am surprised he has accepted it as such.

  53. Most of the time, only the court wins in a court action while everybody else loses something. Seems to fit here. And by everybody, I include everyone affected by the original fraud and every taxpayer that paid Mann for that crap, owns his university E-Mails and then had to pay for the UVA obstruction.

    PS, there is no personal E-Mail when using an employer’s E-Mail. Unless you’re with the IRS.

  54. “If I were ATI, I’d send him that $250 in pennies, which is fully legal tender,”

    There has been quite a discussion going on legal tender on the Internet, with one participant arguing (unsuccessfully) that if legal tender is offered and refused that a debt is canceled. Actually, there is no law forcing anyone to accept legal tender. This doesn’t stop officials from refusing to accept the payment of fines in cents, or the refusal of the Miami post office to accept $100 notes.

    http://www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ArticleId=25389

  55. Siberian_Husky says:

    “Any and all of you would fight tooth and nail if a FOI request was made for your private email correspondence.”

    Excellent red herring.

    No one requested Mann’s “private” e-mails from an account that he paid for with his own dollars; these are not subject to FOIA. They requested e-mails from accounts that were paid for by taxpayer dollars, which are subject to FOIA. There should be no presumption of privacy.

    I worked on a government job on which our e-mails were all stored at transmittal as they were subject to FOIA. The standard instruction was: never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. Apparently, Mikey never learned this.

  56. Considering that this “award” was to the “Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia et al“, it seems to me that (not unlike his Nobel prize that wasn’t – or the uptick in his notorious hockey-stick), Mann is once again conjuring up a “victory” for himself when, in fact (as with his earlier self-declared “exonerations” pertaining to his SLAPP suit against Steyn – and/or Steyn’s countersuit) he has no such legitimate claim (except, perhaps, in the windmills of his mind!)

    When I first read about this last Friday, it was … well … a second fiddle funny: Friday Funny

    Par for the Mannian course, I suppose ;-)

  57. Siberian_Husky says:
    July 15, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    I’m all for getting academics to release their data to ensure that appropriate methodology has been used and results are robust.
    —————————————-
    What would you suggest be done when an academic doesn’t release their data and methodology?
    Ask for it nicely? That’s been tried many times with no acceptable outcome.
    Ask the journal, which requires data backup, to post access to the data?That’s been tried many times with no acceptable outcome.
    All that’s left is to use a FOIA request. This type of a request really should be a non-event. Most it not all universities and research groups that receive government funding(tax dollars) have people in place to process these request. If the academic has been studious with their data preparation and storage, fulfilling a FOIA request should be nothing more than forwarding the data, or link to its location. There is no, repeat NO harassment in this type of request.

    Many academics seem to think that complying with FOIA laws are somehow beneath them. They think that people that file FOIA request are harassing them.

    It’s a VERY sad day for scientific transparency and integrity.

  58. Wow, Siberian_Husky, way to jump into something you have so little knowledge about. Take some time to learn what the case was about and Mann’s behavior throughout before spouting Mann’s personal talking point that this is some poor, innocent scientist being bullied by the oil-funded meanies.

  59. Well, certainly $250 ain’t big compensation or damages. Symbolic, yeah, Mann, don’t spend it all at once. You’ve been given a lesson, learn from it. You are being miserably ineffective, and before you build any more cases just weigh up the cost to you before jumping in.

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