A Suffolk Superior Court judge has ordered #ExxonMobil to turn over documents to Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey related to a partisan, multi-state investigation. The state charges the oil company misled the public about the impact of fossil fuels and climate change. ExxonMobil has maintained it learned of any negative impacts to the climate when the public did. The company is also fighting Healey in federal court and trying to get her subpoena quashed.

Healey contends ExxonMobil knew about the ostensible dangers of burning fossil fuels back in the mid-1970s.

Her office said that beginning in 1976, ExxonMobil was intentionally misleading “investors and consumers” by hiding any knowledge of a link between burning fossil fuels and global warming. But during the ’70s, scientists were warning about an imminent Ice Age caused from burning fossil fuels and particulate matter.

Coalition of Dem AGs

The investigation began last year when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and fellow Democratic AGs held a controversial press conference and announced they would look for “creative ways” to prosecute oil companies. At the presser, they were joined by VP-turned-activist Al Gore, the former U.S.

Vice President, and other Democratic AGs. Healey and Schneiderman are the only remaining AGs pursuing the investigation.

Other media outlets reported that Environment groups, including the Rockefeller Family Fund, held secret meetings to strategize how to take down ExxonMobil. Shortly after the meeting, the AGs announced their coalition.

The AGs are replicating the same playbook employed when all 50 state AGs filed charges against Big Tobacco, which was sued for misleading the public over their products' safety. That ended in a windfall for state coffers.

Forum shopping

Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger was appointed by former Governor Deval Patrick, a staunch liberal and Democrat.

Before Brieger was appointed, she said in an interview that when she was a federal prosecutor, she had “a lot of discretion to pursue matters,” cautioning: “It's a huge responsibility, and has to be worn lightly.”

But as a judge, she ruled that Healey didn’t need to have “probable cause” but only a “belief” a company has violated state law. She also cautioned Healey not to act capriciously or use her legal authority excessively. Brieger wrote the AG did not have to be “confident of the probable result of her investigation” to proceed.

More simply, Healey did not need to provide any concrete evidence of malfeasance in her brief or show a reasonable expectation of getting a conviction or settlement.

With this subpoena, she can poke around the company's documents to find proof of any wrongdoing.

Fishing expedition

Critics contend that Healey and Schneiderman are on a fishing expedition, looking for a crime to fit their collective belief that the oil giant broke the law. If ExxonMobil prevails in federal court and proves the two AGs are politically motivated and therefore unable to carry out unbiased investigations, the state subpoena could unravel. Last month, a federal judge withdrew a planned deposition of Healey without giving any details. ExxonMobil said in a statement they will fight these politically motivated charges.