Attorney General Keith Ellison is being sued for declining to hand over documents related to his office’s hiring of a lawyer connected to Michael Bloomberg’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
The Bloomberg-backed center is housed within the New York University School of Law and claims to support “state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies.” It does this in a number of ways, including by working “with interested attorneys general to identity and hire NYU Law Fellows who serve as special assistant attorneys general in state attorney general offices.”
According to a LinkedIn profile for Pete Surdo, he works as a special assistant attorney general at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
“I am off on a new adventure with the NYU School of Law’s State Impact Center. I will be embedded with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as an Environmental Litigator and and Special Assistant Attorney General,” Surdo’s profile states, supporting claims that Ellison’s office is participating in the program.
A group called the Energy Policy Advocates requested documents from Ellison’s office in order to determine just how deep its connection is to the Bloomberg program, but the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office refused. The office claimed the documents either don’t exist or aren’t available for the public to view.
As a result, Energy Policy Advocates sued with the help of the newly-formed Upper Midwest Law Center.
“We think this is improper and so do a lot of other people,” Upper Midwest Law Center President Doug Seaton said during a Wednesday press conference announcing the lawsuit. He said the lawyers are “embedded” in offices across the country to “pursue an agenda sought by Michael Bloomberg.”
“This is not a phishing expedition because we know these lawyers are there, we have the evidence … that indicates there certainly are lawyers from the Bloomberg organization that are placed within the Attorney General’s Office,” Seaton explained.
“We think it’s improper, unethical and should be stopped. The only reason we’re seeking the information is to get the full record of what’s happened,” he continued, noting that his firm has similar lawsuits in motion in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
He went on to describe the situation as an “improper arrangement” that is already banned under Minnesota law. In fact, Minnesota Statutes Sec. 8.06 states that “no additional counsel shall be employed and the legal business of the state shall be performed exclusively by the attorney general and the attorney general’s assistants.”
The lawsuit itself accuses the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office of “erroneously” relying on “conclusory claims of attorney-client privilege, the word product doctrine, the deliberative process privilege, and the common interest doctrine to withhold public records.”
The lawsuit lists Ellison “in his official capacity as Attorney General” as a defendant and was filed in Ramsey County District Court.
“The public has a substantial interest in learning how private law firms are recruiting elected officials to further private goals and what if any such discussions [the Office of the Attorney General] had,” it states.
“Minnesotans are living with the effects of pollution, environmental injustice, and climate change every day, and they expect an attorney general who enforces environmental law,” Ellison said. “My office is happy to accept the assistance of New York University Law School to help me advance the cause of environmental stewardship.”
Ellison argued that the arrangement is permissible under a Minnesota law related to the “employee interchange between state and private industry.”
John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment and member of the Upper Midwest Law Center’s Board of Directors, called Ellison’s initial defense “ridiculous.”
“He has been caught red-handed,” Hinderaker wrote in a Powerline article. “It is time to shine the light of day on secret, corrupt and in some cases illegal relationships among billionaire Democratic Party donors and elected officials like Keith Ellison.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background Photo “Center for the American Experiment” by the Center for the American Experiment.