New Twist in Tangled Web of Minnesota “Special Assistant AG” Relationships - Climate Litigation Watch

New Twist in Tangled Web of Minnesota “Special Assistant AG” Relationships

Revelation raises questions re disclosure, disqualification, viability of suit

A new complication has emerged for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s climate litigation against the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries — already burdened by the appearance of orchestration with outside interest groups, and hints of work-for-tips.

CLW now sees information revealing a pre-existing relationship between one of the AG Office’s lead attorneys on the suit and a climate activist who boasted not only of his group having helped bring the lawsuit about, but of intimate familiarity with that attorney’s role in preparing it.

On its face the apparently continuing relationship raises disqualification issues; questions of conflicts and what the attorney told the AGO when an outside group placed her there, apparently to pursue this case; and even questions about the viability of the case going forward.

Specifically, Leigh Currie was one of the attorneys who filed the AGO’s complaint against API, et al.

Currie is “seconded” to Ellison’s Office by the Michael-Bloomberg-funded “State Energy & Environmental Impact Center”, a product of Ellison’s application to SEEIC for outside resources, which application indicated what sort of litigation was in the offing if only AGO could obtain such additional resources.

If that suit implicitly was an outcome that would result only if someone else provided Ellison’s AGO the attorneys to prepare it, that would be trouble for Ellison’s Office (and the suit). We do see another attorney filing the case was also a Bloomberg-Center-provided “SAAG”, Peter Surdo, whose LinkedIn page boasted of being “embedded” by Bloomberg’s group in Ellison’s office.

We now also know the pair “have basically been working on this full time over the last few months.”

“Fresh Energy helped put this idea in front of Attorney General Keith Ellison shortly after he was sworn in…Attorney Leigh Currie on the Attorney General’s staff and Pete Surdo have basically been working on this full time over the last few months.”

Fresh Energy’s Michael Noble, boasting of how his group helped bring MN AGO climate prosecution about, with help of his past or present colleague, SAAG Leigh Currie

How we know this latter fact raises certain questions. Among them are what if, despite appearances, Ellison’s application to Bloomberg’s group wasn’t dangling the prospect of such litigation as the pitch to receive privately funded lawyers and PR promotion, as Ellison’s Office no doubt would insist? The public deserves to know — either way — just how then did it come about? Related, how did the person who boasted his knowledge of Ms. Currie’s workload and focus on the litigation come to know that?

Which brings us to the newly spotted information. Ms. Currie is listed on the climate-activist group Climate Generation’s website as a past Chair and current member (since 2010) of its board of advisors.

The same page lists as a past Board Chair and current board member one Michael Noble of “Fresh Energy”, who boasted of his group’s role in AGO bringing this suit and of his knowledge that Ms. Currie was working on it “basically full-time over the past few months”.

Surely the listing of Currie’s continued, current service on that board — with fellow past-Chair Noble with whom she apparently also is quietly (until Noble bragged) working on litigation for the AG’s Office to advance the same agenda — is in error, an artifact never cleaned up after Currie went to work on the agenda from within the Attorney General’s Office?

Even if so, however, that would not dispense with the questions this raises, among which are, what are the implications of their relationship, what did AGO know about that, and when did AGO know it?

CLW is aware of, for example, New York OAG conducting SAAG conflict of interest screening, and one of its SAAGs submitting a required “Request for Permission to Engage in Outside Activity” (form HRM042 – (rev 10/12)) (this one curiously stated “N/A” in lieu of describing the activity requiring permission, left every other question unanswered, was unsigned…yet was approved).

Is Minnesota’s Attorney General’s Office required to obtain the same information from Ms. Currie and, if so, did it and, if so, what do the filings disclose?

The transparency group Energy Policy Advocates has submitted a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA, the state’s open records law) request seeking Currie’s on-boarding documents including any requests for permission to engage in outside activity, and affiliations and attestations of past activities raising possible conflicts.

This information was always relevant to MN AGO but is now highly pertinent to current events, and CLW will keep the public posted on MN AGO’s willingness to make public data public.