The fight by a conservative legal group and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) to obtain the e-mails written by leading climate change scientist Michael E. Mann while he was at the University of Virginia was shot down by a judge in Prince William County last year. But Marshall and the legal group appealed, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to take the case and rule on whether the state’s Freedom of Information Act exempts unpublished academic research from being disclosed to the public, even after it’s been concluded or has been released elsewhere.
Richard C. Kast and Madelyn F. Wessel, U.Va.’s lawyers, argued that Judge Sheridan got it right when he ruled that the university had properly interpreted FOIA. They acknowledged that there was no judicial precedent on the FOIA exemption, but that “the policy of open government under the act is not ‘absolute,’” citing more than 100 exemptions in Virginia’s FOIA law. They noted that the Institute and Marshall challenge the judge’s interpretation of “proprietary,” but that the conservatives “offer no alternative definition or explanation as to why the plain meaning of the term should not apply.” Plain meaning, in U.Va.’s view, being “a thing or property owned or in the possession of one who manages and controls them.”
Mann said in an e-mail to me [the WaPo writer] that “I believe Judge Sheridan’s ruling protecting faculty research correspondence is correct and is precisely what Sen. Thomas Michie intended when he proposed his legislation to amend Virginia’s FOIA law and the legislature enacted in 1984 to enhance the ability of Virginia’s public colleges and university’s to protect the scholarly research endeavor.”