Trial Lawyer: Raise an ‘Army’ to Pressure Ecuadorian Court

Outtakes from the documentary-style movie “Crude” should leave no doubt that the campaign against Chevron instigated by U.S. trial lawyers has nothing to do with the law or justice, and everything to do with politics, PR and manipulating Ecuador’s judicial system.

Chevron has recently filed additional transcripts in federal court to support the company’s legal motions. Among the transcripts’ astonishing revelations:

  • The U.S. trial lawyer leading the litigation, Steven Donziger, and the plaintiffs’ team discuss the need for “an army” of supporters to surround the courthouse in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, to pressure the judge hearing the lawsuit.
  • The head of the supposedly independent group, Amazon Watch, worries that the cameraman recording the conversation is documenting an illegal conspiracy.

In July, Chevron successfully argued in federal court — the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals — that it had a legal right to review outtakes from the anti-Chevron film, “Crude.”  Both the plaintiffs suing the company for $27.4 billion — the Amazon Defense Coalition, ostensibly representing Ecuadorians harmed by oil drilling — and the movie’s director, Joe Berlinger, vigorously fought the motion.

No wonder: The outtakes show the litigation not to be the great moral cause that plaintiffs claim, but rather a cynical shake-down effort directed at the company because it’s American and it’s profitable. But that’s the nature of many of the lawsuits filed against U.S. companies that operate in poor countries.

As evidence, consider Chevron Document 22-4 (available   here Scribd version,), which documents portions of a June 6, 2007 conversation among Donziger, Luis Yanza (Ecuadorian coordinator for the plaintiffs) and Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch.

Most of the conversation is in Spanish, translated into English. (The transcripts include both languages.) The word “ejército” is translated as “army,” but it sounds more like a goon squad to us. Luis Yanza says at one point: “They would have to receive minimal training… things– details, so they do a good job for us. That’s it. And then, if it goes well, and we need, uh, if we need weapons, we can provide weapons.”

This is the same Luis Yanza awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008, including an award of $150,000, for organizing Amazonian Indians.

True, laughter accompanies some of the conversation, but Soltani — supposedly an independent activist — is clearly concerned with the legality of what’s being discussed.

The full conversation starts on page 25 of Chevron’s submitted document:

SOLTANI — This project of John S– Quigley’s– do we want– do we want to talk about this?

DONZIGER — [unintelligble] needs are a big march…

SOLTANI — In Quito– in, uh…


SOLTANI — In Lago.

DONZIGER — There are several things. Big march that we make our own army. Private [army].

YANZA — [laughter] It’s– it’s– it’s called an army, but it’s like a– a group-  a specialized group, right, specialized for, uh– ah—for immediate action.

DONZIGER — [Laughter] [unintelligible]

YANZA — When the court is needed– when action is needed.

SOLTANI — Do you guys know if anybody can, uh, subpoena these videos? What is a [unintelligible]

DONZIGER — We don’t have the power of subpoena in Ecuador.

SOLTANI — What about U.S.? These guys…

DONZIGER — An army– it’s not an armed army– it’s a group of people to watch over the court…

SOLTANI — I just want to know– I just want you to know that it’s– it’s illegal to conspire to break the law.

DONZIGER — No law’s been conspired to be broken.

YANZA — [laughter] It’s to watch over the court, because for the remainder of the case…

DONZIGER — It’s to protect justice.

SOLTANI — [unintelligible] it’s that there’s a group…

DONZIGER — To prevent Texaco from breaking the law.

SOLTANI — There’s a group of wat—people who are watching the court, like…

YANZA — Yes, but who are there permanently– it’s not that everyone is there, it goes by shifts, but who are available a little [overlapped voices]

DONZIGER — The idea– we need a permanent watch [overlapped voices] with twenty people to follow Richard, the expert, to protect the court, to prevent corruption. Prevent corruption.

We need people. It’s a force, a political force that the judges can see. Then, we start with five hundred people at the court and after that– all that, followed by twenty, thirty people, paid by us, for their time to protect the process from corruption.

SOLTANI — Monitors.

YANZA — Yes.

DONZIGER — Exactly.

YANZA — Yes, yes, yes [unintelligible]

DONZIGER — I prefer the word ‘army’, but…

YANZA — But– but– [chuckles] but—but these people…  [overlapped voices]

YANZA — would have to receive some minimal training…

SOLTANI — Actually, I like this country.

YANZA — they would have to receive minimal training… things– details, so they do a good job for us. That’s it. And then, if it goes well, and we need, uh, if we need weapons, we can provide weapons.

DONZIGER — [laughter]

YANZA — From Iran! We can bring…

How strange that Berlinger, the director who claimed journalistic privilege to resist releasing the outtakes, would fail to include this conversation in his movie.  A U.S. trial lawyer scheming with Ecuadorian activists to pressure a foreign court through “an army.” What a story!

Additional documents and transcripts filed by Chevron disclose even more ugly plotting. You can start with this document: “Declaration of Kristen L. Hendricks in Further Support of Chevron Corporation’s Motion for a Preservation Order and to Supplement and Enforce the Subpoenas, and in Opposition to Respondents’ Cross-Motion for an Order Compelling Chevron Corporation’s to Comply with Second Circuit’s Order.” (Also at Scribd.) Hendricks is an associate in the New York offices of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which represents Chevron.

Chevron’s submission to the court 22-3 also includes informative transcripts. It’s available here and at Scribd.

Earlier posts here.

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