Court Rules VA Attorney General Must Turn Over Emails Related to “Law Enforcement for Rent” Scheme

Photo Credit: Getty

A Circuit Court in Richmond, VA on Tuesday ordered the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Virginia to conduct a proper search for emails and other records requested by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and attorney Christopher Horner three and a half years ago under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The court ruled that CEI and Horner presented evidence that the OAG failed to properly search for official documents responsive to FOIA requests made in September and October of 2018, when former VA Attorney General Mark Herring was in office. CEI and Horner requested the documents while investigating a legally and ethically suspect agreement between Herring’s OAG and a nonprofit housed at the New York University (NYU) Law School to place donor-funded attorneys on Herring’s staff to prosecute cases related to climate change.

Much of the evidence prompting the court’s ruling was obtained when, following threads exposed during discovery in this litigation, Horner made other requests, yielding other emails from the same Office showing that it indeed improperly withheld documents, as a result of its conducting a curiously limited search of email accounts.

Horner revealed the nation-wide scheme to place donor-funded NYU law school attorneys in OAGs including Virginia, Massachusetts, Oregon, California and other states in an August 2018 report for CEI titled Law Enforcement for Rent: How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy through State Attorneys General. In 2019 and 2021, the Virginia legislature restricted funds appropriated to OAG, precluding the attempt by NYU Law School and Herring’s OAG to hire donor-funded attorneys to pursue a partisan agenda.

“Virginians should be grateful to the court for holding the Office of the Attorney General accountable for its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and we look forward to receiving and reviewing the documents. We hope Attorney General Jason Miyares will ensure Virginians know the extent to which his predecessor empowered partisan interests to use OAG to further a political agenda,” said Horner. “Virginians and all Americans should expect their prosecutors to uphold and comply with the law and former AG Herring and other attorneys general were wrong to bring partisan politics into prosecutors’ offices.”