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'Crude' Outtakes Reveal Lies in Trial Lawyers' Suit Against Chevron



Cross-posted from Shopfloor.org.

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 Shopfloor 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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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.