Former AG Sorrell Skips Deposition, Sparks War of Words | Off Message

Former AG Sorrell Skips Deposition, Sparks War of Words


Former attorney general Bill Sorrell - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Former attorney general Bill Sorrell
Former Vermont attorney general Bill Sorrell didn’t show up Wednesday morning for a deposition related to a case brought by the industry-funded Energy & Environment Legal Institute, which claimed Sorrell flouted court procedure by skipping the proceeding.

For more than a year, the Washington, D.C.-based group has sought records from Sorrell and other state attorneys general regarding a potential investigation of ExxonMobil. The organization twice sued the Vermont AG's office while Sorrell still held the post, and the cases have continued since his departure. Among other issues under dispute, E&E Legal argues that Sorrell must hand over files from his private email account.

Current Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, whose office is also a defendant in the case and is representing Sorrell, told Seven Days that Sorrell didn't show up Wednesday because the judge had yet to rule on their motion to dismiss the case.

“Our position is the motion to dismiss has to be adjudicated first,” Donovan said. “We’re not saying, ‘Hey you don’t get to depose the guy,’ but that threshold question has to first be answered by the court.”

Donovan noted that his office filed a motion to dismiss the case on September 5 — 10 days before E&E Legal requested Sorrell's deposition. On September 27, Donovan’s office filed a motion asking the court to quash the deposition request until it ruled on whether the case could continue.

E&E Legal attorney Matt Hardin disagreed with Donovan’s assessment, saying that Sorrell flouted court procedure by failing to appear for his scheduled 10 a.m. deposition. “We’re gonna say he needs to be punished for not showing up,” Hardin said.

Sorrell told Seven Days he simply heeded his attorney's advice. “I had it on my calendar to appear this morning,” Sorrell said when reached by phone Wednesday. But on Tuesday, he said, the AG’s office “advised me it wasn’t going to happen.”

Donovan said his office told Hardin, who flew up from Virginia for the deposition, in advance that Sorrell wouldn’t be at the courthouse Wednesday morning.

That’s no excuse, according to Hardin, who maintained that court rules required Sorrell to participate in the deposition. The Virginia lawyer said he’ll ask the judge to order Sorrell to pay attorney fees associated with his trip.

And in a press release issued at 10:30 a.m., Hardin blasted Sorrell: “Any first year law student understands you cannot ignore basic civil procedures like skipping a deposition if you are compelled, simply because you would prefer not to participate. When you consider the fact that the individual in question is the former attorney general of an entire state, his failure to ignore the very rules he spent twenty years enforcing is unfathomable.”

The difference of opinions may ultimately have been all for naught. Hours after the missed deposition, Judge Mary Miles Teachout did issue a ruling. She rejected the AG’s office motion to dismiss and compelled Sorrell to be deposed.

A date for the deposition has yet to be set.