Tag: Karen Hinton

After Fraud and Conspiring, the Logical Next Step: RICO

What do you call an operation in which the lead lawyer in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit talks about threatening judges, an environmental activist worries about a cameraman recording plans to subvert justice, a supposed independent court expert submits a report written for him by plaintiffs, documents are forged, ex parte meetings engaged in with government officials, and the skullduggery emerges only because a documentary filmaker let the lawyers dictate his “art?” Well, it’s a racket, sure. Corrupt? Claro.

Since Chevron was the subject of this corrupt scheme under the guise of a lawsuit claiming environmental damage in Ecuador, it’s comes as no surprise that the company has now filed a RICO lawsuit against the lawyers, activists and various hangers-on involved in the shakedown. (UPDATE: Here’s Chevron’s filing in the Southern District of New York.)

Courthouse News Service reports the news, “Chevron Levels RICO Charges Over $113B Trial in Ecuador,” with the suit naming Steven Donziger, the New York trial lawyer who masterminded the scheme, as the lead defendant in the 214-page suit.

Other defendants include the Amazon Defense Front and Stratus Consulting. Alleged co-conspirators who are not named as defendants include Joseph Kohn and his firm Kohn, Swift & Graf; the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady; the firm Motley Rice; the firm Patton Boggs; and spokeswoman Karen Hinton.

Courthouse News Service quotes from Chevron’s complaint:

Over the course of several years, defendants Steven Donziger and his co-defendants and co-conspirators have sought to extort, defraud, and otherwise tortiously injure plaintiff Chevron by means of a plan they conceived and substantially executed in the United States. The enterprise’s ultimate aim is to create enough pressure on Chevron in the United States to extort it into paying to stop the campaign against it. (continue reading…)

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Videos Reveal Anti-Chevron Strategy: Politics, Pressure and Lies

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]

Excerpts:

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‘Crude’ Footage was Out of Context? Tell it to the Judge

The legal publication, Corporate Counsel, did a great service recently in publishing video outtakes from “Crude,” the documentary-style movie about the $113 billion lawsuit against Chevron for supposed environmental damage in Ecuador. The outtakes showed the U.S. trial lawyer driving the litigation, Steven Donziger, and his activist allies manipulating the Ecuadorian judicial system, orchestrating a bogus damage assessment, and scheming to have unjust criminal prosecutions brought against two of Chevron’s attorneys in the country.

The outtakes have destroyed any legal credibility and moral standing claimed by the plaintiffs. Most recently, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York repeatedly cited the footage as providing good reason for Donziger to submit to questioning by Chevron.

Obviously recognizing how damaging the outtakes would be to their cause, the plaintiffs originally tried mightily to keep the video out of court and the public eye. Now that the footage been made public, how to respond?

Karen Hinton, the PR person for the Amazon Defense Coalition, resorts to the usual bluster and claims “out of context” in her response to Corporate Counsel’s publication of the videos. The magazine has posted her comments online, “Plaintiffs Respond to the Chevron Outtakes.” The response follows Hinton’s usual modus operandi: Shout loudly and repeatedly, attack your critics for bad faith, and throw out whatever accusation you can to muddy the discussion. Here’s the gist: (continue reading…)

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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.
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Taking Crude Liberties with the Facts

As we blog about frequently here at Shopfloor.org, Chevron is defending itself in the U.S. and Ecuador courts against litigation by U.S. trial lawyers and their activist allies who want the company to pay $27.4 billion for environmental damage in Ecuador allegedly committed by its predecessor company, Texaco.

Now Shopfloor is being mentioned in court filings in the case, but the claims made about blog posts here are just not true.

The most recent turn of legal events has involved outtakes from the documentary-style movie “Crude,” which covers the litigation against the company from a perspective sympathetic to the Ecuadorian victims of Western civilization. Chevron sought outtakes from the movie in federal court, and once acquiring them, identified clear incidents of the trial lawyer team scheming to maximize damages against the company, even to the extent of meeting with the supposedly “independent” court-appointed expert who later recommended the $27.4 billion award. Also damning were the claims from Steven Donziger, the U.S. trial lawyer leading the litigation, who said among other outrageous things:  “Hold on a second, you know, this is Ecuador. . . . You can say whatever you want and at the end of the day, there’s a thousand people around the courthouse, you’re going to get what you want. Sorry, but it’s true.”

The above information is available in Chevron’s Aug. 3 filing in U.S. District Court, Southern District Court of New York, “Chevron Corporation’s Memorandum of Law in support of a motion for a preservation order, and to supplement and enforce the subpoenas.” We wrote about the filing here, an Aug. 3 Shopfloor post, “‘Crude’ Footage Reveals Lies Behind Trial Lawyers’ Suit Against Chevron.”

Chevron obtained the footage after the legal process went from the District Court to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 15, the Second Circuit ordered Joe Berlinger, the director of the film, to make relevant footage available to Chevron. That order, which we wrote about here, includes a court instruction to Chevron: “2) Material produced under this order shall be used by the petitioners solely for litigation, arbitration, or submission to official bodies, either local or international.”

Lawyers for both Berlinger and the plaintiffs are now claiming that Shopfloor.org’s blogging about the court proceedings somehow represents a violation by Chevron of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals order which required Berlinger to turn over footage to the company.

Well, of course, Shopfloor is not Chevron and Chevron is not Shopfloor. Included in these most recent filings are misstatements of fact, which we will now correct.

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Chevron Files in Ecuador for Dismissal of Suit by U.S. Trial Lawyers

The documentary evidence has been mounting for many months now that the U.S. trial lawyers’ litigation against Chevron for environmental damages in Ecuador was built on collusion, fraud and lies, all marketed as an environmental and humanitarian campaign.

This week’s revelations from outtakes from the documentary-style film “Crude” sealed the case. The collusion, fraud and lies are now on film, visible for the courts and the whole world to see.

So this next step makes eminent sense.

Chevron Files Petition in Ecuador Seeking Dismissal of Lawsuit

SAN RAMON, Calif., Aug. 6, 2010 – Chevron Corporation has today filed a petition before the Provincial Court of Sucumbíos in Lago Agrio, Ecuador seeking dismissal of the lawsuit pending against it there. In support of its petition, Chevron has submitted to the court video outtakes from the movie Crude that show the plaintiffs’ counsel, consultants, and associates meeting with the court’s supposedly neutral “Global Expert,” Richard Stalin Cabrera Vega, to plan and create the $27.3 billion damages report that Cabrera later would present to the court as his own.

Chevron believes that the video evidence proves that plaintiffs’ counsel and consultants colluded with Cabrera to present a fraudulent report and then to present a fraudulent “peer review” of their own work. Chevron also believes that the video proves that plaintiffs’ and Cabrera’s denials of their collusion in filings and testimony before the Ecuadorian court, before various United States courts and other institutions, and before the worldwide press have been false.

Chevron’s petition argues that the case must be dismissed as a sanction for the abusive misconduct by plaintiffs and their attorneys, and because the fraudulent “Global Expert” report submitted under Cabrera’s name is the only “evidence” supporting plaintiffs’ case.

Roger Alford of Pepperdine University School of Law has been reporting on Chevron’s court filing this week based on the “Crude” footage, including responses from Karen Hinton, the trial lawyers’ PR person, and an attorney for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. His excellent posts are at the Opinio Juris blog here. But you cannot spin or explain away the clear meaning of the words of Steven Donziger, the head U.S. trial lawyer. As Alford writes:

In responding to concerns from their own experts that there was not evidence of groundwater contamination, Donziger replies, “This is all for the Court just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bullshit.” (p. 12). That’s right, Donziger is caught on tape saying that the evidence he is gathering for inclusion in the court-appointed expert report about groundwater contamination is just smoke and mirrors and bullshit.

I would rarely advise our readers to read a court filing they don’t have to, especially during the summer recess. But this one is explosive.

Shopfloor posts:

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‘Crude’ Footage Reveals Lies Behind Trial Lawyers’ Suit Against Chevron

Now, THIS is a blockbuster. Footage from the documentary-style film, “Crude,” reveals that U.S. trial lawyers strategized with a supposedly independent court-appointed expert in Ecuador who went on to recommmend penalizing Chevron $27.4 billion for environmental damage in the Amazon.

In a court filing today in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, attorneys for Chevron detailed the collusion among Steven Donziger, the U.S. trial lawyer who has masterminded the suit, the Ecuadorian lawyers who serve as the public face of the anti-Chevron campaign, and Richard Cabrera, an engineer later appointed as the court’s “special master” charged with assessing the pollution and damages. It is Cabrera who recommended the $27.4 billion damage figure, earning him praise from anti-Chevron activists who hailed his findings as proof of the company’s greed and criminality.

The damning revelations are the result of Chevron’s successful legal efforts to gain access to outtakes from the movie, “Crude,” which the director, Joe Berlinger, claimed to be a fair and balanced effort to show both sides in the litigation over Texaco’s operations in Ecuador between 1964 and 1990. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001.  Berlinger claimed journalistic privilege and fought to keep control of the footage, but was ordered by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on July 15 to turn over relevant material.  The review by Chevron’s lawyers of the first batch of outtakes shows that not only that the legal case against Chevron is built on lies, but that Berlinger’s reputation as a serious, fair-minded documentarian is hollow.

The opening of Chevron’s memorandum filed today reads like a good movie, with the added virtue of being true. From the document, “Chevron Corporation’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for a Preservation Order, and to supplement and enforce the subpoenas,” filed by Chevron’s attorney, Randy Mastro, with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher:

“Hold on a second, you know, this is Ecuador. . . . You can say whatever you want and at the end of the day, there’s a thousand people around the courthouse, you’re going to get what you want. Sorry, but it’s true.” “Because at the end of the day, this is all for the Court just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bullshit. It really is. We have enough, to get money, to win.” Ex. F at 195-05.1 So says Lago Agrio Plaintiffs’ counsel and New York licensed lawyer Steven Donziger in an outtake from Crude produced just days ago pursuant to the orders of this Court and the Second Circuit. Donziger makes these statements during a meeting with Plaintiffs’ U.S. environmental consultants Charles Champ, Ann Maest, and Dick Kamp, after Maest tells him, point blank, that they need evidence of groundwater contamination, because Plaintiffs did not submit any and “right now all the reports are saying it’s just at the pits and the stations and nothing has spread anywhere at all.” Id. When Champ continues to press on the lack of evidence, Donziger looks at the camera and says, “There’s another point I got to make . . . with these guys, but I can’t get this on camera,” and then the camera goes off. Id.

Chevron has thus far been able to review only a small fraction of the outtakes produced, but already it is clear that they contain conclusive evidence that Plaintiffs’ counsel, consultants, and associates have knowingly participated in a fraudulent enterprise to corrupt the legal proceedings pending in Ecuador against Chevron. The express goal of their scheme is to procure a fraudulent, multi-billion dollar damages recommendation from a supposedly independent “Special Master,” and then to use that fraudulent recommendation either to extort a settlement from Chevron or to obtain a fraudulent judgment from the Ecuadorian court.

We’ve uploaded the court filing here. (Scribd here.) The 39-page document provides a wealth of details about the sordid  orchestration of the claims against Chevron, with Steven Donziger being the cynical conductor. The key factual point appears on page five:

The Crude Outtakes Show That Plaintiffs’ Counsel and Consultants Planned and Created the Supposedly Independent $27.4 Billion “Global Expert Assessment”

The outtakes that Chevron has reviewed so far leave no doubt that Plaintiffs arranged for Cabrera’s appointment and decided what Cabrera’s report would say, and that Plaintiffs’ lawyers and their U.S. consultants—not independent experts working for Cabrera—drafted Cabrera’s initial work plan and ultimately his damages assessment in the Lago Agrio Litigation.

We have followed this case because the litigation captures so well the modern shakedown campaigns that trial lawyers and activists carry out against U.S. businesses, often cheered on by a biased media. The evidence was always there, conclusions ready to be drawn. Now there’s no denying it — the corruption behind this litigation is on film.

Earlier posts about Chevron, “Crude,” and Donziger.

Disclosure: As I have disclosed repeatedly, Chevron paid for several bloggers, myself included, to take a trip to Florida and Ecuador in June 2009, during which Chevron presented its side of  the case. No one at Chevron has ever told me what to write on the issue.

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What 30,000? Etc. It’s Still Not a Class-Action Lawsuit

In a response to our post (“What 30,000?“) debunking the claim that 30,000 Amazonian Indians have sued Chevron, the Amazon Defense Coalition’s PR person, Karen Hinton, writes:

Most of the time I don’t bother to read this blog, much less respond. But like so many others, this post is way over the top. The lawsuit is a class-action lawsuit. That means it covers any and all people living in the Texaco concession area who have been harmed by the contamination. As with class-action lawsuits filed in this country, names of specific individuals are included in the lawsuit but that does not mean the lawsuit is limited to those individuals.

We’ve read the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are 48 Ecuadorians. There’s no mention of a “class” or a citation of the Ecuadorian law that defines class-action litigation. No judge has certified the class, that is, recognized anyone’s standing to sue for damages on behalf of the supposed 30,000 Amazonians.

Just because you call it a class action, does not make it one. Indeed, Ecuador law does not even acknowledge class-action lawsuits.

It’s true a precursor lawsuit filed against Texaco in 1993 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York was filed as a class action, and Steven Donziger — now running the litigation against Chevron — was one of the lawyers. But that’s the law in the United States, one of the few unfortunate countries that statutorily provide for class-action litigation. (A federal judge eventually dismissed that suit based on forum non conveniens, i.e., the suit did not belong in the United States.)

So the legal team suing Chevron in Ecuador knows the litigation not a class action lawsuit, and yet Hinton and her fellow angry bloggers call people names who point out the fact. Typical, but not very effective as PR strategy goes unless you’re only trying to keep your base in a state of constant outrage (and generosity). Really, it’s not that hard to figure out the falsehoods: All you have to do is read the lawsuit.

Are we wrong? Well, here’s a sincere offer to Ms. Hinton: Point out to us in the suit the “class action.” Tell us where the legal authority is for 48 Ecuadorians to sue on behalf of whomever these 30,000 Amazonians may be.

UPDATE (5:50 p.m.) Ms. Hinton responds, to her credit (see comments):

In Ecuador, it’s called a popular action, which means that any member of a community can bring a lawsuit where they see an act that is destroying or somehow disrupting a community resource (in this case, the water and land). So we are representing 30,000 people because that is the estimate of how large the community is that is impacted by the pollution.

So it’s NOT a class action, after all. And our point that the case has been consistently misrepresented is, in fact, correct.

And, rereading the suit, we still only see 48 plaintiffs, with the money going to the Amazon Defense Coalition. “Popular action” is a sentiment, not a law.

P.S. But we stand to be corrected.

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Ah Yes, Now the Personal Attacks

In the comments to our post below, “Ecuador, Correa, Trial Attorneys and the Convergence of Interests,” you’ll see the use of a tactic common to the plaintiff’s side in the U.S. trial lawyers/environmental activist lawsuit against Chevron for the operations of Texaco in Ecuador. Karen Hinton of Hinton Communications, hired to do PR by the plaintiffs, goes after me by name, accusing me of inhumanity, etc. 

What took so long? The lawyers in this case have specialized in personal attacks and intimidation, encouraging blogospheric campaigns against anyone who dares to challenge the preposterous claims made in the lawsuit and propaganda. In the movie “Crude,” there’s a scene where the chief U.S. trial attorney Steven Donziger bursts into a judge’s office in Quito with the media in tow, a scene full of shouting and physical intimidation — Donziger’s a big guy. The judge, an old and shaky fellow, backs off a decision-making process just as Donziger wanted. The Ecuadorian attorney for Chevron is left sputtering.

The next scene in the hallway has the Chevron attorney trying to explain his side of the issue. Donziger is shouting, pointing fingers, gesticulating menacingly, “This is a corrupt attorney! This is a corrupt attorney!” (As we said, “Crude” is a remarkably revealing movie, made in a documentary-like style.)

It’s a tactic. It’s a cynical yet successful tactic that appears throughout the plaintiff’s case and masterful PR campaign. The facts of their lawsuit don’t bear up — see http://www.chevron.com/ecuador/ for Chevron’s side — so the  plaintiff’s team resorts to ad hominem, appeal to emotion, and blogospheric harassment. It’s only surprising it took them a day to call out Ms. Hinton’s sharp keyboard, although she does seem to spend a lot of time online.

P.S. Sludge? Petroecuador has operated the oil fields in Ecuador since 1990. Any sludge we saw was the result of Petroecuador, the government-owned oil company.

P.P.S. Here’s a revealing connection. As the movie “Crude” documents, the lawsuit against Chevron is being financed by the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C. The firm last year hired the lobbying firm of Ben Barnes to lobby Congress on Ecuador and the environment. And whom does Hinton Communications list among its clients? The Ben Barnes Group!

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