The University of Virginia has hired the big law firm Hogan Lovells to help the school evaluate its options in responding to a civil subpoena from the state attorney general seeking documents related to the work of a former professor. It’s the strongest indication yet that the school is seriously considering fighting the subpoena in court, as various academic groups have urged.

“The University and its Board of Visitors believe it is important to respond to this [civil information demand],” said John O. Wynne, the Rector of the university, in his first statement on the issue. “Research universities must defend the privilege of academic freedom in the creation of new knowledge. Hogan Lovells will help us to explore the appropriate options for a response.”

The university has until May 27 to decide whether to petition a court to intervene. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is seeking documents related to the work of global warming scientist Michael Mann, who worked at the university until 2005 and is now at Penn State. Cuccinelli, an outspoken global warming skeptic, has said he is investigating whether Mann defrauded taxpayers as he sought grant money for his research.

Dealing with the legal issues is tricky for the university’s own general counsel’s office, because its members are formally employees of the attorney general’s office.

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Read “Academics fight Cuccinelli’s call for climate-change records” in The Virginian-Pilot