New Records Suit re Climate Litigation Industry: What Did Minnesota AG Ellison Know About "SAAGs" Work With Outside Activists & When Did He Know It? - Climate Litigation Watch

New Records Suit re Climate Litigation Industry: What Did Minnesota AG Ellison Know About “SAAGs” Work With Outside Activists & When Did He Know It?

Third Lawsuit against Minnesota AG Ellison Over Refusal to Release Records re Bloomberg-Funded “Special Assistant AG” Disclosures, Work with Pressure Group

MARSHALL, MN – The public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO), has filed a public records lawsuit in Minnesota state court against Attorney General Keith Ellison. This action, the third that the nonprofit transparency group Energy Policy Advocates (EPA) has had to file in recent months, seeks to compel the AG to release documents shedding further light on the use of law enforcement with and to advance private interests. 

Specifically at issue are records reflecting what information AG Ellison did, or did not, require of privately hired attorneys he brought in to Minnesota’s OAG from an activist group established by billionaire activist and major Democratic Party donor Michael Bloomberg to recruit and privately staff AGs to support his “climate” activism. These include disclosures, otherwise required of actual OAG attorney-employees, at key points in time about relationships with outside activists now boasting of their personal knowledge of these attorneys’ work. 

Ellison has brought in two Bloomberg-funded, “SAAGs,” Peter Surdo and Leigh Currie. Surdo boasted on his LinkedIn profile of being “embedded with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as an Environmental Litigator and Special Assistant Attorney General”. Like Surdo, Ms. Currie has represented and continues to represent OAG in public filings and comments, including as counsel of record in OAG’s June 2020 lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Flint Hills Resources, on which she also was the Minn. Stat. § 549.211 Acknowledgement signatory.

However, it is clear that Ellison’s Office asked precious few questions about these attorneys’ arrangement with the Blomberg group, and that at least one is coordinating with other activists. 

EPA’s complaint details how the Executive Director of a climate activist group called “Fresh Energy,” Michael Noble, boasted on a Zoom call soon after this suit was filed that his group “helped put this idea in front of Attorney General Keith Ellison shortly after he was sworn in” after “a national organization who [sic] leads on this kind of climate liability, climate litigation…brought this concept to Fresh Energy the Fall of 2018”. At the same time, Noble bragged of personal knowledge including that “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.”

Publicly available information shows that Ms. Currie and Mr. Noble serve together on the “Advisory Board” of an environmental activist group called Climate Generation, of which both are also listed as “Former Board member/past Board Chair” (the “Wayback Machine” confirms that this refers to the governing Board of Directors, and that Ms. Currie was the first Chair). 

These troubling comments suggest indiscretions including about litigation favored by an activist colleague of hers, with whom she apparently remains in close contact on the subject of their joint activism, litigation the outside activist promotes and appears to take credit for bringing to OAG. 

It also raises questions about Ms. Currie’s disclosures about her work with other activists both before coming to OAG via Bloomberg’s group and as she continued her work. 

Ms. Currie’s disclosures about her relationship and communications with Mr. Noble and any conflicts they suggest are of great public interest.

However, EPA has learned in other litigation that Ellison’s Office rushed into this arrangement with little consideration of the implications, including, e.g., even failing to obtain the terms of these private attorneys’ employment with the donor’s organization. For example, OAG admits that it never obtained the Bloomberg group’s engagement letters with its privately hired attorneys placed in OAG asserting the parties’ relationship, SAAGs’ tasks and compensation.

Seeking to shed light on the facts surrounding Minnesota’s involvement with Ms. Currie, and specifically what disclosures were made when about Ms. Currie’s relationship with Climate Generation, Fresh Energy and Michael Noble before being brought in to OAG, and/or before filing the lawsuit against energy companies of which Mr. Noble boasted knowledge, EPA submitted a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request to OAG on September 4, 2020. Ellison’s office has completely ignored the request for a quarter of a year.

Ellison’s Office previously refused to answer questions about these disclosures in the discovery stage of another open records suit in the same court, Energy Policy Advocates v. Ellison (No. 62-CV-20-3985). For example, it will not disclose information about what Leigh Currie disclosed to OAG prior to beginning work, and/or prior to her filing the lawsuit against energy companies of which Noble boasted, on Ellison’s behalf, or about potential conflicts of interest, relevant ongoing advisory or volunteer activities, her role on the advisory board of Climate Generation, and/or her contemporary service on the advisory board of Climate Generation with Fresh Energy’s Noble. Ellison has also specifically refused to disclose whether Ms. Currie communicated with Mr. Noble as she worked on the investigation of the companies she sued, which Noble boasts he brought to OAG, a suit he now boasts of personal knowledge about. 

The public deserve answers as to what the AG knew, and when he knew it, about the Bloomberg group’s attorney and her relationships with activists. Unfortunately, for the third time so far, Attorney General Keith Ellison’s Office refuses to provide answers.

GAO’s Matt Hardin filed suit on behalf of Energy Policy Advocates.

Government Accountability & Oversight is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to transparency in public officials’ dealings on matters of energy, environment and law enforcement