What Respect Should a Court Give to Elected Officials?

Okay, before you answer “not very much,” perhaps a little more thought might help. The Boston Herald reports that Attorney General Maura Healey promised to “vigorously oppose” a Texas judge’s order for her to testify in a deposition relating to her office’s probe of Exxon Mobil’s climate change policy and said she has no plans to visit the Lone Star State for the Dec. 13 hearing.

“Our position in this ligation is that the authorities in Texas, and specifically the federal court down there, has no jurisdiction over state attorneys general and the work of their offices,” Healey told reporters today at the State House. “It’s been disappointing to see Exxon fight the request for basic information. Our job as attorneys general is to be able to ask questions.”

Healey launched her probe of Exxon Mobil’s research in April, arguing the oil giant was deceiving consumers and investors. Exxon Mobil filed for an injunction — which Healey’s lawyers have moved to dismiss — to stop her on First Amendment and other grounds.

Judge Ed Kinkeade late last week ordered Healey, along with New York AG Eric Schneiderman, to answer questions in a Dallas courtroom deposition December 13.

“We are vigorously opposing any order to testify or produce discovery,” Healey said. “We believe we are on strong legal ground, not only with respect to the questions that we asked, but also to the position that this court has no jurisdiction over us.

“In simple terms, what the court has done is inappropriate,” the AG added.

Asked whether Healey has plans to travel to Texas for the deposition, she replied, “No, I don’t and we will take it up on appeal.”

Kinkeade has noted Exxon Mobil has charged Healey with attempting “to satisfy a political agenda,” and said in his order he wants to know more about what is behind her probe before he finds for either side.

Whether Attorney General Healey has a “political agenda” isn’t reasonably in dispute. She is, after all, an elected political figure. She is neither the first nor the last elected Attorney General who has started inquires relating to deceptive practices.

So, to the point:  Should a Federal judge interfere with an ongoing or incipient investigation by requiring the Massachusetts Attorney General to travel to his courtroom for a deposition? Maybe? How about requiring the next Attorney General to appear in a Federal Judge’s courtroom for a deposition? After all, he is just an appointed figure…but an important, busy guy…so maybe whether you are elected pursuing a “political agenda” or appointed is not the proper question. So, how about a state court judge from Colorado who tells Attorney General Sessions “show up in my courtroom so I can find out why you are messing with our legalized marijuana laws”?

Tricky stuff, which suggests maybe judges needs to be cautious in this arena. 

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