New York Attorney General Letitia James succeeded in stopping Exxon's document requests in its climate fraud caseNew York Attorney General Letitia James successfully pushed back on excessive document requests in Exxon's climate fraud case. Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By Karen Savage

A New York state judge has rejected Exxon’s attempt to force third-party witnesses to produce documents in New York’s climate fraud suit against the oil giant, calling it a “gigantic, burdensome fishing expedition.”

Exxon had demanded third-party witnesses provide the documents prior to submitting to depositions in the case, which the New York attorney general’s office said was effectively pressuring those witnesses not to testify. The AG’s office filed a motion opposing Exxon’s demands, saying it imposed  “disproportionate burdens” on the witnesses and was in violation of an agreement that allowed Exxon to take depositions from key witnesses but mentioned no document requests.

New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager agreed with the attorney general that Exxon overstepped their agreement by sending letters to witnesses informing them that if they were to testify, they would need to turn over documents in addition to being deposed. Exxon attorneys also reminded witnesses that they cannot be compelled to testify and asked if they would still make themselves available for the trial.

Ostrager ruled on Thursday that while Exxon is entitled to a wide array of documents and it can’t go on a “gigantic, burdensome fishing expedition” to obtain documents that are not related to the case. Ostrager said Exxon must first depose the witnesses in order to establish a “factual predicate” for its request, which includes communication between the witnesses and the attorney general’s office.

“You’re not entitled to burden these third-party witnesses,” Ostrager said during a hearing Thursday, as first reported by Law360.

Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

New York’s lawsuit against Exxon was filed last year, alleging the oil giant deceived investors for years by deliberately downplaying the climate risks to its business and long-term financial health.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 23, and had Exxon succeeded in forcing witnesses to produce documents, it could have delayed the trial.

“We appreciate the court’s very reasonable decision to deny Exxon’s overburdensome fishing expedition, and look forward to making our case in court this fall,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

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