Exxon Climate Case Judge Questions Prosecutor’s Objectivity

  • ‘Bias or pre-judgment’ may have informed court subpoena: judge
  • Exxon has maintained attorneys general probe is without merit

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey may have engaged in a “bad faith” pursuit of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s climate science files by presupposing what her investigation would uncover, a Texas judge said.

Fort Worth-based U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade said he was concerned by Healey’s actions, which included a closed-door meeting with an environmental activist and attorneys general from other states the day before a New York press conference to announce a joint plan to pursue Exxon. Healey is part of a coalition of top legal officers from several states and U.S. territories probing whether Exxon defrauded investors and consumers by concealing what it may have known about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate.

The judge asked for more information in the case before deciding whether to quash the subpoena or throw out Exxon’s request to do so.

Healey’s actions and remarks prior to issuing the subpoena raised questions about whether she engaged in “bias or pre-judgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover,” the judge wrote in a ruling released on Thursday.

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“Consumers and investors have a right to understand what Exxon knew about the impact of fossil fuels and when," Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey, said in an e-mail. “Despite its claims, Exxon is subject to the laws of our state and is accountable for any misrepresentations it may have made. We will continue to fight aggressively on the basis of our clear legal authority.”

“We agree with the judge that Attorney General Healey’s actions are concerning,” said Alan Jeffers, an Exxon spokesman. “Her investigation and others like it are part of an orchestrated campaign against our company that is without legal merit.”

Massachusetts, New York and other states are probing whether Exxon violated securities laws and consumer-protection rules by withholding information allegedly obtained as early as the 1970s that man-made emissions were changing the climate.

Exxon “believes the risk of climate change is clear and warrants action,” Jeffers said. The company “is taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options.”

The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, 4:16-cv-469, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

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