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At a press conference held on March 29, 2016, a coalition of 19 Democratic state attorneys general and one Independent – with former Vice President Al Gore as the speaker that they privately tagged as their headline-grabbing “star power” – announced their collective efforts to deal with the problem of climate change. The attorneys general, calling themselves “AGs United for Clean Power,” declared that they planned to “creatively and aggressively” use their powers to force ExxonMobil, think tanks and individuals to comply with their preferred policy on climate change, urged on by activists intolerant of contrary views.
The press that attended had mixed reactions to the show, some overjoyed, some skeptical. Shawn McCoy, publisher of Inside Sources, questioned the AGs, saying: “A Bloomberg Review editorial noted that the Exxon investigation is preposterous and a dangerous affirmation of power. The New York Times has pointed out that Exxon has published research that lines up with mainstream climatology and therefore there’s not a comparison to Big Tobacco. So is this a publicity stunt? Is the investigation a publicity stunt?”
The AGs denied it with vigor, particularly the Independent, Claude Earl Walker, Attorney General of the Virgin Islands of the United States – an unincorporated U.S. Territory in the Caribbean Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.*
Walker took the microphone and called Al Gore “my hero,” then gave an impassioned speech pledging to do something “transformational” to end reliance on fossil fuel, beginning with an investigation into ExxonMobil, which manufactures a product he believes is “destroying this earth.”
After his performance, Walker “destroyed this earth” a bit by benefitting from the expenditure of a considerable amount of Jet A fuel (most likely made by ExxonMobil Aviation) while flying the 1,628 air miles from JFK back to Cyril King Airport near his office in the capital city of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, also known as a popular cruise ship port.
Evidence shows that Walker’s March 29 press conference performance was merely for show. In reality, he had been colluding with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, his colleagues and environmental group leaders for more than a month. Walker sent his 19-page subpoena alleging “conspiracy to obtain money by false pretenses” to ExxonMobil headquarters in Dallas, Texas on March 15 – exactly two weeks before taking the stage in New York City, a fact he did not mention. He had something to hide and he hid it.
When ExxonMobil received the subpoena filed by Walker, the return address was the Washington, D.C. office of Linda Singer. Walker had delegated his territorial powers to her as his “national counsel” who would manage the investigation because his U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice was in disorder, according to Gov. Kenneth Mapp. Walker had been nominated for the office by the governor only last August and became “the fourth person in eight months to lead the beleaguered department – one the governor acknowledged remains in a “mess,” according to the Virgin Islands Consortium.
Singer was the perfect lawyer to perform a predatory investigation under the Virgin Islands’ Criminal Influenced and Corrupt Organization law (CICO), a stand-in for the mainland’s federal Mafia-busting Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law (RICO).
Singer is a partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC, which touts itself as “the most effective law firm in the United States for lawsuits with a strong social and political component.” Singer is so qualified because she is a former attorney general turned plaintiffs’ lawyer with deep experience using questionable tactics to win lucrative cases. She was featured in a 2014 New York Times investigative report, “Lawyers Create Big Paydays by Coaxing Attorneys General to Sue.”
Singer was selected as the Times’ opener for their report, describing how she approached Attorney General Gary King of New Mexico with an “unusual proposition.” She wanted him “to sue the owner of a nursing home in rural New Mexico that Mr. King had never heard of and Ms. Singer had never set foot in.” Her proposed lawsuit did not cite any specific complaints about care, only numbers on staffing levels suggesting that residents were being mistreated. AG King wanted details, and Singer shortly emailed him that, “I finally got the numbers on the nursing home case and would love to discuss it with you briefly.”
The New York Times wryly highlighted “the enormous potential payoff for Ms. Singer’s firm if she could persuade Mr. King to hire her and use his state powers to investigate and sue, which he did.” This legal racket is a thriving industry, the Times continued: “Plaintiffs’ lawyers working on a contingency-fee basis have teamed up mostly with Democratic state attorneys general to file hundreds of lawsuits against businesses that make anything from pharmaceuticals to snack foods.” Not surprisingly, law firm members in this industry give generous election campaign contributions to Democratic Attorneys General candidates and party political organizations.
The payday industry was prompted by the Big Payday of the Big Tobacco case, according to the Times. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, characterized such sue-and-settle surrogates as “the buccaneers of the trial bar” in his opinion piece, “Exxon Is Big Tobacco? Tell Me Another.”
ExxonMobil did the reasonable thing in the face of the social and political lawsuit: It sued Attorney General Walker, Linda Singer, and Cohen Milstein for violating its “constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law and constitute the common law tort of abuse of process.”
Other victims of Walker’s abuse of process have also gone on the attack with lawsuits seeking sanctions against the AG, whose office has withdrawn its subpoena of libertarian think tank, Competitive Enterprise Institute, but still threatens to re-impose it at its whim. CEI is redoubling its efforts against Walker.
The Climate Change Movement and its attorneys general are not so invulnerable as they thought.
*USVI is directly overseen by the U.S. federal government and has no sovereignty such as states possess, but is allowed to elect its own territorial governor and members of its territorial legislature. Residents are citizens of the United States, elect non-voting delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives, but cannot vote in presidential elections. The Territory has its own Department of Justice headed by a governor-nominated and legislature-confirmed attorney general.