COURT SMACKS DOWN CUCCINELLI…. Shortly after taking office, Virginia’s comically right-wing attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, decided his time would be well spent launching a witch hunt against a climate scientist named Michael Mann. Even for a Republican official known for pushing the activist envelope, this was pretty offensive.

Mann was a scholar at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005, before leaving to run Penn State’s Earth System Science Center. But in the wake of the “Climategate” nonsense, Cuccinelli decided to launch an investigation, demanding “a sweeping swath of documents,” to see if Mann had manipulated climate data during his U-Va. tenure. (some of which was funded through state grants).

Was there any reason to suspect Mann of fraudulent research? Well, no. But Cuccinelli wanted to poke around anyway, just to see what he could come up with. Today, a Virginia judge told The Cooch that he’s on the wrong track.

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic…..

The judge also explained to Cuccinelli that four of the five grants Mann relied on for his research were federally funded, and therefore out of bounds for the state A.G.’s investigation. Cuccinelli will reportedly try again, reworking his subpoena, while considering whether to appeal today’s ruling.

Given the threat Cuccinelli’s crusade posed to academic freedom, today’s outcome is very good news. In a statement Mann said the judge’s order “is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.”

As for the bigger picture, I’d add that the list of Cuccinelli’s other excesses is getting pretty long. Virginia’s A.G. has, after all, been palling around with radicals, recently considered a literacy test for some Virginians wishing to vote, questioned President Obama’s citizenship, rescinded legal protections for gays at Virginia universities, argued publicly that it doesn’t cost the public any money when he and his office work on a frivolous lawsuit, and, of course temporarily added a modesty shield to Virginia’s great seal.

And he’s only been in office since January.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.