Massachusetts Miracle Part III - Climate Litigation Watch

Massachusetts Miracle Part III

What We’ve Learned Re Climate Inquisitor, Bloomberg’s Top Recruiter AG Healey

In previous posts, here and here, CLW noted the sudden reversal of the Massachusetts AG Maura Healey’s stonewall of a request to release her application to participate in the NYU State Impact Center’s fellowship program, and related records. The documents, now released, reveal that the Massachusetts AG’s Office was an exuberant booster and participant in the Bloomberg scheme and leapt at the opportunity to join.  

That is what one might have expected given Massachusetts’s Healey became Bloomberg’s lead recruiter in August 2018, taking the reins from Bloomberg’s initial recruiter, Brian Frosh.

Heck, when announcing her investigation into ExxonMobil at the infamous Manhattan press conference with ‘green’ investor Al Gore, AG Healey actually repeated the “what Exxon knew” talking point given her staff in a private presentation by a plaintiff’s tort lawyer looking to enlist AGs’ help (more on that in a bit).

Healey’s point man for the Bloomberg scheme, Chief of Staff Mike Firestone, acknowledges the Office’s admiration in an August 25, 2017 email to his staff, noting that “Mass AGO would be the ideal recipient for an NYU environmental law fellow.” OAG realized quickly the potential of the Center in promoting a progressive climate change agenda via law enforcement.

Despite its confidence, therefore, OAG pulled out every tool in its box to ensure a successful application, including calling first an unnamed “contact” and then the Center’s Director David Hayes. It continued to communicate with Hayes with hopes of tapping “into the Center’s resources for research even if we don’t get selected for a fellow.”

They could’ve relaxed. The Bloomberg Center had big plans for the use of that Office. It received not one, but two SAAGs from the get-go. Firestone responded to Hayes and Elizabeth Klein that the office was “over the moon” while General Counsel Judy Zeprun noted this this dreamy outcome was “more than [they] dared hope for.” 

CLW is torn between concluding that this is a zealous pursuit to — as the Virginia AG put it, however indelicately — use law enforcement “to advance the agenda represented by” a major party donor’s group, or that this is simply breathtaking naiveté.

OAG sufficiently recognized the diciness of this scheme to privately fund donor-funded private AGs, who report back to their funder, to redact certain specifics when they discussed that issue of funding (those redactions being the subject of continuing legal challenge).

But, having taken the plunge, why shouldn’t the office be thrilled? The Bloomberg Center offered, in addition to two fully funded “SAAGs”, access to media and public relations professionals as well as privately hired lawyers (as well as others, as CLW has reported). 

Critically, the application itself affirms the nexus between the plaintiffs’ bar strategy to pursue private companies for settlements agreeing to financial and political demands, AGs’ eagerness to investigate private companies for alleged climate offenses, and NYU’s role as a force multiplier in using the courts to push a political (and financial) agenda. 

In the program narrative section of Healey’s application, OAG lays bare one of the intended uses of NYU SAAGs. The application envisions the SAAG “investigating companies for investor and consumer protection violations related to environmental and climate claims…”. You want us to chase those guys you don’t like? We’ll put your folks to work! 

This should resonate with anyone familiar with plaintiffs’ lawyer Matt Pawa’s call for a “single sympathetic attorney general” to do the necessary work of investigating energy companies so as to extract, via subpoena, internal documents that would then bolster the flagging tort campaigns.  

While the released records demonstrate what any reasonable observer would expect of this arrangement, the withheld portions continue to raise questions. For example, the application’s budget subsection is redacted with the exception of one sentence that reads “[w]e note that the budget proposal assumes that NYU will pay the fellow directly.” 

The justification for withholding the budget language isn’t the silly attorney-client privilege claim being made by Healey’s predecessor, Frosh, but is that the information is related solely to the internal practices of OAG and disclosure may inhibit proper performance of government function. Yes, information that OAG released to Bloomberg’s group… 

MA OAG’s 180 degree reversal of whether it can hide these records from the public — ok, with redactions still to be litigated, maybe 150 degrees — recalls the federal judge who wondered aloud whether AG efforts to mislead the press and fight open records requests “suggest that the attorneys general are trying to hide something from the public”, and recommended that “[d]iscovery regarding this refusal [to disclose information] would seem in order.”

The public deserved to see these public records, and it does not reflect well on Massachusetts AG Healey’s Office that it took filing suit to get the Office to release them.