FORT WORTH (CN) – Texas and Alabama intervened Monday in ExxonMobil’s First Amendment lawsuit against a Virgin Islands investigation of whether the Big Oil company tried to cover up its knowledge of climate change.
ExxonMobil sued Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker, the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm and attorney Linda Singer last month in Tarrant County Court.
In his plea to intervene and quash the subpoena, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says Walker’s use of New York-based Cohen Milstein to issue a subpoena for more than four decades of company records “violates the First Amendment and that the participation of Cohen Milstein, allegedly on a contingency fee basis, is an unconstitutional delegation of prosecutorial power.”
“This case is about abusing the power of the subpoena to force Exxon to turn over many decades’ worth of records, so an attorney general with an agenda can pore over them in hopes of finding something incriminating,” Paxton said Monday morning. “It’s a fishing expedition of the worst kind, and represents an effort to punish Exxon for daring to hold an opinion on climate change that differs from that of radical environmentalists.”
The 7-page plea in intervention adds: “(I)t is disconcerting that the apparent pilot of the discovery expedition is a private law firm that could take home a percentage of penalties (if assessed) available only to government prosecutors. We agree with ExxonMobil that serious jurisdictional concerns exist, but to protect the fundamental right of impartiality in criminal and quasi-criminal investigations, we intervene.”
ExxonMobil claims the subpoena exerts a “chilling effect” that “strikes at the protected speech” the First Amendment protects.
“First, CICO’s [the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act’s] statute of limitations requires the occurrence of at least one predicate act of fraud within the last five years,” ExxonMobil’s complaint states. “For more than a decade, however, ExxonMobil has widely and publicly confirmed that it ‘recognize[s] that the risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant.'”
ExxonMobil says it has not violated Virgin Island laws because it has no physical presence in the territory, and “owns no property, has no employees, and has conducted no business operations” in the Virgin Islands in the past five years.
Paxton claims that Walker’s investigation “could effectively set a precedent that anyone can be criminally investigated because of their stated opinions.”
“The First Amendment ensures that all people are free to hold opinions and promote them in public debate,” Paxton said. “ExxonMobil, which employs thousands in Texas, faces high court costs if the investigation goes forward.”
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