How the Left Occupies Attorneys General Offices: A Case Study in Capture
Newly obtained public records offer a window into one of the most troubling political developments in recent years. That is the enlistment of state attorneys general by activists and tort lawyers to advance an agenda when stymied by democracy. These new emails provide a case-study in the capture of an AG’s office.
For background, recall how in 2012 activists and a plaintiff’s tort lawyer named Matt Pawa famously called for “a single sympathetic state attorney general” to begin subpoenaing private parties’ records to give a lift to a flagging litigation campaign against energy companies. “[E]ven grand juries convened by a district attorney could result in significant document discovery.” Ingenious. But no AG would actually do that, right?
Well. New York’s Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed ExxonMobil in November 2015, and another subpoenaed think tanks and 100 other opponents of the climate agenda in April 2016. In March 2016, nearly twenty AGs held a Manhattan press conference, vowing to use their law enforcement offices in whatever means necessary to investigate those very same companies targeted by the tort bar.
Briefing the participants beforehand was none other than the same Matt Pawa. Which fact AG offices sought to keep from the media. One of the participating AGs, Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, even announced an investigation that day into what the tort lawyer titled his slide show, “What Exxon Knew.”
Lately, Pawa has lost several of his “climate nuisance” clients to a plaintiff’s tort firm called Sher Edling. Sher Edling’s stealthy campaign recruiting plaintiffs has been revealed to some extent by open records productions, as has it’s recruiter’s sensitivity to public records laws.
Which brings us to these new revelations, from the Office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Emails obtained by the nonprofit transparency group Energy Policy Advocates show that, soon after Ms. Nessel assumed the Office (“OAG”) in 2019, it brought in a consultant named Stanley “Skip” Pruss.
Pruss is a former OAG employee more recently with a “green” consultancy called 5 Lakes Energy (he is no longer on the company’s website, but is still using its email system, both as his OAG account and for his other activities). Officials acknowledge in emails that Pruss’s arrangement and email situation are unprecedented.
Dozens of OAG emails show that Pruss, with the title “Special Assistant Attorney General”, serves as a direct conduit for environmentalists’ priorities to Deputy AG Kelly Keenan, Environment Division chief Peter Manning, and to Nessel.
Emails reveal that both Sher Edling and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) went through Pruss to approach Nessel’s office about also suing ExxonMobil.
For example, Environment chief Manning wrote to the AG and others that Pruss “mentioned his conversation with [MI LCV’s] Lisa Wozniak regarding the lawsuits against Exxon for failure to disclose the impacts of its activities on climate change. I am happy to be part of a meeting with the [LCV].” Manning also wrote that Pruss contacted “the firm handling the Exxon matters [to] arrange for a discussion,” by which, emails confirm, he means Sher Edling.
Manning told Pruss, “Thanks. Will you please include me when you set something up with them.” Consistent with the timeline Pruss laid out in emails to Sher Edling, the AG, Pruss, and Nessel’s top deputies Keenan and Manning arranged a “Climate Change Litigation” meeting for October 4, 2019.
Line-items in Pruss’s heavily redacted bills to the Michigan taxpayer match up with emails referencing phone calls with LCV and Sher Edling.
The same is true for emails mentioning Pruss’s calls with David Hayes, who leads billionaire climate activist Michael Bloomberg’s project for placing privately hired lawyers in OAGs to “advanc[e] progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions”.
Pruss emailed Nessel, “David is keenly interested in supporting the MI AG office…David and his Deputy Director Elizabeth Klein would like to come to Michigan to meet you both.” About that, Nessel wrote back, “Sounds good to me.”
Bloomberg, too, wants AGs to sue Exxon and other energy companies.
Pruss was brought in ostensibly as Nessel’s alternate on a body called the Great Lakes Commission (GLC), which meets three times a year. He was capped at $20,000 per year for this, which was soon doubled to $40,000.
This arrangement seems pretextual, as Pruss is broadly influential as the greens’ Swiss Army knife, a taxpayer-funded direct conduit to the AG and senior officials on all the top priorities of environmentalists and the plaintiff’s bar — from investigating private parties to blocking a replacement for Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline under the Mackinac Straights.
These records detail the best example yet of how the activist Left is capturing law enforcement offices to advance its various priorities, and at taxpayer expense.
Chris Horner is on the board of directors of Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C., a non-profit public interest law firm.