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Answers, Accountability for ‘Field General’ of Anti-Chevron Suit

By | Briefly Legal, Energy, Trade | One Comment

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has issued his full opinion explaining his earlier order that Steven Donziger, the U.S. trial lawyer, answer the questions of Chevron’s attorneys about his orchestration of the $113 billion lawsuit against the company in Ecuador.

Released Friday in the Southern District of New York, Kaplan’s order denies Donziger’s claims that, among other arguments, being forced to submit to depositions would violate attorney-client privilege. But Donziger isn’t admitted to practice law in Ecuador where the litigation is taking place, and he does not play a counsel’s role. Judge Kaplan refers to Donziger as the “field general” of the anti-Chevron campaign.

Donziger is at the center of this controversy. While he is a member of the New York Bar and years ago worked on a predecessor to the Lago Agrio lawsuit that was brought in this Court, he is not qualified to practice law in Ecuador. He does not serve as litigation counsel there. He nevertheless has been extremely active in support of the Lago Agrio plaintiffs.

The evidence before this Court shows that Donziger has attempted to (1) intimidate the Ecuadorian judges, (2) obtain political support for the Ecuadorian lawsuit, (3) persuade the GOE to promote the interests of the Lago Agrio plaintiffs, (4) obtain favorable media coverage, (5) solicit the support of celebrities (including Daryl Hannah and Trudie Styler) and environmental groups, (6) procure and package “expert” testimony for use in Ecuador, (7) pressure Chevron to pay a large settlement, and (8) obtain a book deal. Among his efforts was his persuasion of Joseph Berlinger, a documentary film maker, to make a documentary about the Lago Agrio litigation from the plaintiffs’ point of view. That film, entitled Crude, purports to tell the story of the Lago Agrio litigation. It is no exaggeration to say that Donziger is the star of the film, much of which focuses on his words and activities.

And it’s the outtakes of “Crude” that document so much of the wrongdoing, in the process destroying any vestige of legal or moral standing the plaintiffs could claim in their suit against Chevron. Read More

What Else Will Footage from ‘Crude’ Show?

By | Briefly Legal, Energy | 3 Comments

One of the reasons that Chevron filed the memorandum with U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, we blogged about below is that the company has only started reviewing footage from the documentary-style film, “Crude.” Given how damning the early outtakes are, and the apparent games being played over the footage, what else might be out there? Better make sure the footage is preserved.

We especially liked the following passage from Chevron’s court filing, demonstrating once again that there’s no real distinction among the U.S. trial lawyers — Steven Donziger and the Philadelphia law firm funding the litigation, Kohn, Swift & Graf — the Ecuadorian lawyer/activists like Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajarda, and the supposed grassroots activists of the Amazon Defense Coalition, which turns out mostly to be PR person Karen Hinton.

It would strain the Second Circuit’s Order to include only footage of counsel and not footage of those working on behalf of or in concert with Plaintiffs’ counsel. There is little question that groups such as Soltani’s Amazon Watch and Amazon Defense Front have been working on behalf of or in concert with Plaintiffs’ counsel in connection with the Lago Agrio Litigation, and thus footage of personnel from those groups should be produced pursuant to the Second Circuit’s Order. Indeed, recognizing the role that personnel from such organizations have played on behalf of Plaintiffs’ counsel, Berlinger has treated Luis Yanza and other members of Amazon Defense Front as part of Plaintiffs’ litigation team, and has already produced footage including Luis Yanza. See Ex. U. Nonetheless, during the meet and confer, Berlinger’s counsel stated that Mr. Berlinger has taken the position that communications with or film involving Amazon Watch and the Frente are privileged, even though they stand effectively in the same position as Yanza. But Plaintiffs have asserted in the District Court in Colorado that the Frente, Amazon Watch, and Karen Hinton are so closely aligned that they fall within the circle of attorney-client privilege. Ex. QQ. They cannot possible contend here that communications with “Plaintiffs’ counsel” do not include Karen Hinton, the Frente, and Amazon Watch.

It’s the combine — trial lawyers, activists and the supposedly disinterested media — working to wring billions out of Chevron’s shareholders.

Chevron asks the court to order the plaintiffs and their team to preserve evidence, to allow further discovery, and to require director Joe Berlinger to produce the original footage log.

What Photo Do You Use to Illustrate Misleading Journalism?

By | Briefly Legal, Energy, Global Warming, Media Relations, Taxation, Trade | 15 Comments

The New York Times features a longish piece today about the litigation brought by a New York trial lawyer and the Amazon Defense Coalition against Chevron over claims of environmental damage in Ecuador, “Ecuador Oil Pollution Case Only Grows Murkier.”

Well, maybe it’s murky because the paper doesn’t bother to report basic facts, like who actually brought the lawsuit. It’s as if the $27 billion in legal claims just appeared.

The lawsuit is being financed by the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn, Swift and Graf, directed by New York trial lawyer Steven Donziger, and marketed by the Amazon Defense Coalition, which would receive the money from any settlement. And the legal/activist lawsuit is indeed a shakedown intended to force a settlement from Chevron for pollution supposedly left by Texaco, which Chevron purchased in 2001. Texaco operated in Ecuador as Texpet in a joint exploration and production venture with the government-owned oil company, Petroecuador, up until 1992. (See this Texaco history, “Chevron in Ecuador.”)

1992. 1992. 1992. 1992. We stress the year because any oil now appearing as liquid in Ecuador is the responsibility of Petroecuador. First, TexPet remediated all the sites assigned to it for clean-up by the government of Ecuador, which released the company from future claims. Second, oil doesn’t stay liquid on the surface for 17 years!

Those facts notwithstanding, here are the photo and caption the Times used to illustrate today’s story. (In the paper, it’s a five-column black-and-white photo, 6-1/2 inches deep, i.e., big.)

A pool of oil in Lago Agrio, an Ecuadorean town in the Amazon where Texaco left contamination. Chevron, which acquired Texaco, has inherited its legal troubles.
A pool of oil in Lago Agrio, an Ecuadorean town in the Amazon where Texaco left contamination. Chevron, which acquired Texaco, has inherited its legal troubles.

So the Times has illustrated a story about charges of pollution against Chevron with a photo of an oil pit (and flare-offs) created by Petroecuador. And doesn’t bother to tell the readers what they are seeing in the paper has nothing to do with Chevron.

The activists use the trick all the time, pointing to unrelated pollution and claiming Chevron is to blame, but shouldn’t the Times have higher standards? The truth isn’t THAT murky.