Ever since Shopfloor began blogging about the Ecuador-based litigation against Chevron in May 2007, we’ve argued that the lawsuit was a blatant shakedown by U.S. trial lawyers. In claiming Chevron owed $27 billlion — and then $113 billion — for environmental damage from Texaco’s oil drilling in the Amazon, the U.S. attorneys and Lago Agrio plaintiffs in Ecuador were really trying to pressure Chevron (which had bought Texaco in 2001) into a huge settlement. The bigger the settlement, the bigger the check for the U.S. lawyers being paid on a contingency basis.
Their preposterous claims relied not on facts or the law, but rather a multifaceted and ugly public relations and political campaign. At work was a combine of U.S. trial lawyers, environmental activists and anti-corporate bloggers, magnifying their accusations through a sympathetic mainstream media. The shakedown campaign recorded several PR victories, including a “60 Minutes” hit piece against Chevron and most notably a full-length, overwhelmingly pro-plaintiffs’ film, “Crude,” by well-known documentarian Joe Berlinger.
In Ecuador the plaintiffs’ team manipulated the court system and made common cause with the leftist, anti-American regime of President Rafael Correa. (More on that in a later post.)
The response to our arguments? Chevron lies, America exploits the Third World, Ecuadorians are dying and you’re an inhumane corporate shill.
Now, thanks to outtakes from “Crude” that Chevron successfully obtained through the U.S. courts, the trial lawyer/activist/media combine can no longer pretend any sort of moral high ground. Footage reveals Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. attorney who has directed the anti-Chevron campaign in Ecuador and the United States, to be a cynical, arrogant and foul-mouthed commentator. And, unfortunately for the plaintiffs’ case, Donziger is remarkably frank.
Take for example, this video below. At a June 6, 2007, meeting Donziger outlined the plaintiffs’ strategy to intimidate the Ecuadorian courts through the show of brute force. [Warning: Language]
DONZIGER: We have concluded that we need to do more, politically, to control the court, to pressure the court. We believe they make decisions based on who they fear the most, not based on what the laws should dictate. So, what we want to do is to take over the court with a massive protest that we haven’t done since the first day of the trial, back in October of 2003. Remember all those people on the street?
… It’s a huge effort, it costs money. Not that much actually, but, few thousand dollars, to get everyone in for a day. …
How we’re going to do that? Are we going to be outside, are we going to actually go in and shut the court down for a day, are all issues to figure out strategically.
But it — it’s — it’s a critically important moment, because we want to send a message to the court that, don’t f*** with us anymore — not now, and not — not later, and never.
Then there’s this clip of a late 2006 dinner party, in which Donziger, his co-counsel and a woman are discussing the courts. She observes that no judge would rule against the plaintiffs in the Lago Agrio lawsuit because “he’ll be killed.” Donziger responds: “He might not be, but …he thinks he will be…which is just as good.”
Back in Philadelphia, where Donziger meets with Joe Kohn, a partner with the law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf that was funding the lawsuit, the two joke about their manipulation of the legal process.
DONZIGER: I don’t know if you read their papers, but they accused the “conspiracy” of the Lago plaintiffs and the government of trying to intimidate their employees, bully the company, woo dissident shareholders — like the use all this kooky language and they, umm, so they threw back this letter.
KOHN: (chuckles) If only they knew.
DONZIGER: Yeah, exactly. We would never do something like that.
Further outtakes from “Crude” reveal so many of these kind of admissions against interest from Donziger and other members of the plaintiffs’ team. They show themselves to be plotters, polemicists and manipulators of the public and the courts. Their case is corrupt at the core.
No wonder the plaintiffs and Berlinger, the filmmaker, worked so hard to keep the footage out of the court record and the public eye. Berlinger claimed a journalist’s privilege, arguing that he was an investigative reporter and independent gatherer of facts.
Just today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied Berlinger’s latest appeal. Investigative reporter? No.
Respondents contend they are protected from such compelled disclosure by the qualified evidentiary privilege for information gathered during a journalistic investigation. … Given the district court’s findings about the circumstances of the making of the film, particularly the fact that the making of the film was solicited by parties to the litigation to tell their story, and that changes to the film were made at the parties’ instance, Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for purposes of independent reporting and commentary.
Several media outlets, most prominently the American Lawyer and Corporate Counsel, have posted outtakes from “Crude” that Chevron submitted into the court record to demonstrate the rot at the heart of the plaintiffs’ case. Now, in the interest of truth — and as a response to all the malicious and dishonest attacks from the activists, bloggers and flacks — we have posted additional videos at YouTube/NAMVideo, broken out into a playlist, Ecuador Oil Litigation.
The videos tell the story. Any fair-minded observer could ignore all the arguments from Chevron, the blogging here at Shopfloor, the court documents and claims, and just watch the videos to reach the conclusion. The lawsuit against Chevron for environmental damage in Ecuador is dishonest, corrupt and simply a shakedown from U.S. trial lawyers and their Ecuadorian allies.
For our index to the YouTube videos, go here.