Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chevron's "Ghostwriting" Charge Unraveling in Ecuador Pollution Case

Reposted from the Huffington Post

Will U.S. Appellate Court Consider New Evidence Or Close Its Eyes?

Chevron's "ghostwriting" charge against Ecuadorian villagers and their attorneys, who together have held the oil giant accountable for toxic dumping in the Amazon rainforest, is unraveling.

In the unraveling is a string of "missing" serial numbers on USB drives or flash drives that Chevron's lawyers and forensic experts have failed to produce.

Before I explain, though, let me set the scene.

The Ecuadorian villagers, who two decades ago sued Chevron for intentionally contaminating their ancestral lands in the Amazon rainforest, have obtained a game-changing forensic report that blows apart Chevron's fake narrative that it was the victim of a fraud.

This report, explained by Courthouse News, concluded that Chevron's explosive charge that lawyers for the villagers "ghostwrote" a $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment against Chevron is a crock.

I say "game-changing" because the forensic report -- by J. Christopher Racich, one of the leading experts in the field of computer forensics -- will be used by the villagers in enforcement courts in Canada, Brazil and possibly other countries to prove the judgment is valid and Chevron has been falsifying evidence.

Arrogantly, Chevron has refused to pay the $9.5 billion to clean up its toxic mess, forcing the Ecuadorians to try to seize company assets in other countries. Chevron previously sold off all of its assets in Ecuador to make itself judgment proof even though it insisted the trial be conducted in the courts of the South American country.

This new forensic analysis found that the 188-page Ecuador judgment was written gradually over a four-month period, from October 2010 to February 2011, when the Ecuador court issued the ruling. (See the 20-page report here.) Importantly, the report also found no evidence "that a litigation document was transferred to (the judge's) computers while he was drafting the judgment." (Racich reviewed the hard drives of the two computers used by the Ecuador judge to write the judgment against Chevron.)

After losing the case in its chosen forum of Ecuador, Chevron filed a retaliatory "racketeering" lawsuit against the villagers and their lawyers in the U.S. in a last-ditch attempt to try to block enforcement of the judgment. (See my previous blogs for more details about the history of the case.) This new recent forensic analysis was conducted after that trial for a separate but related arbitration claim filed by Chevron against the Government of Ecuador.

This finding could be the most important one in this seemingly never-ending litigation.

That's because Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate and his top lawyer, Randy Mastro of the controversial law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (which recently was found by the High Court of England to have falsified evidence in another case), hoped the forensic analysis would corroborate testimony by their discredited witness, Alberto Guerra.

2015-05-01-1430506034-8262307-photomastro.jpeg
Chevron Lawyer Randy Mastro

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Chevron's Discredited Witness Alberto Guerra

Chevron has paid Guerra an estimated $2 million in cash and benefits and moved him and his family to the U.S., apparently in exchange for his testimony. The former Ecuador judge is an admitted criminal; he testified under oath to taking numerous bribes before he was removed from the bench. See here.

After being coached for 53 straight days by Chevron's lawyers, Guerra testified in a U.S. court that one of the Ecuadorians' lawyers gave the Ecuador judgment to Judge Nicolas Zambrano in late January 2011, just days before the judgment was issued. Racich found no evidence that this occurred.

Meanwhile, neither Chevron nor the arbitration panel hearing the company's claim that it has not been treated fairly in Ecuador's court system has released Chevron's own forensic analysis of the judge's computers conducted by Spencer Lynch of the New York-based digital firm Stroz Friedberg. From various legal motions filed in the arbitration and the Racich report, though, we know this:

Chevron expert Lynch agrees with Racich that no evidence exists that documents having to do with the judgment were transferred to Zambrano's computers during the period of time that he was writing the judgment between October 2010 and February 2011, directly contradicting Guerra's testimony.

However, here is where the plot thickens.

The 32-year-old up and coming Stroz Friedberg examiner, based in London and schooled at Duke University, claims that five USBs he obtained from Guerra were connected to Zambrano's computers.

The only problem is that nothing -- as in zero -- has been found on Guerra's computer that resembles the judgment, even though he testified at one point the judgment was on his computer. (We note that Guerra and Zambrano served on the same court at one time and it would not have been unusual for them to share documents.)

And, finally, the Chevron bombshell:

Lynch did not provide the serial numbers of the five USBs.

Now, forensic experts never forget to write down the serial numbers of flash drives. That would be like a police officer forgetting to write down the tag number of a speeding car he's stopped.

Here's what Racich had to say about Lynch's missing serial numbers.

"Because the serial numbers were not recorded by (Chevron's) forensic examiners from Mr. Guerra's original USB devices (a standard and fundamental step during imaging of any Computer equipment), no forensic examiner can conclude with a degree of scientific certainty that the images currently in our possession are of the USB devices that were attached to Mr. Zambrano's computers....

"In a forensic case involving the acquisition of electronic data, it is highly unusual that these serial numbers were not recorded -- Stroz Friedberg recorded them for all other devices they imaged from Mr. Guerra .... Without this information, Mr. Lynch is merely speculating that the USB images taken from Mr. Guerra's USB devices that we have both examined are in fact the same USB devices that were attached to Mr. Zambrano's computers."

Forgot the serial numbers? Mistake? Not a chance. Holding back the serial numbers allows Chevron's lawyers to do nothing but sow seeds of doubt when, in truth, they have nothing but bad news in their own forensic analysis.

During the recent oral argument in the appeal of the "fraud" charges, Judge Richard Wesley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit indicated a "dispute" existed among the three judges on whether they could consider the Racich report in the appeal. Significantly, the lower court judge in that extremely problematic case did not have the Racich report.

I realize that sometimes evidence obtained after a trial cannot always be used in an appeal, but we are talking about delaying and possibly denying justice to tens of thousands of Ecuadorians because they could not afford the costs to do the same forensic analysis prior to the "fraud" trial and Chevron could afford to pay a witness up to $2 million.

We also are talking about the reputation of human rights lawyers Steven Donziger* and Pablo Fajardo, who should have a legal path of some sort to clearing their names.

I don't know about you, but I will take the word of a highly-respected American forensic expert with a stellar reputation over a self-confessed corrupt judge who's been paid a king's ransom by an oil company trying to evade responsibility for its contamination.

PS: If Stroz Friedberg sounds familiar to you, it's because that's the firm Chevron lawyer Mastro hired to conduct a forensic analysis of the State of New Jersey's computers, used by Governor Chris Christie and his entourage of political appointees involved in Bridgegate.

Mastro's "independent" and "exhaustive" review of Bridgegate produced no incriminating findings.

Meanwhile, indictments against the Governor's political staff have been handed down by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Chevron Targets Journalist With Cyberattacks for Exposing Wrongdoing in Ecuador Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Chevron is trying to cyberbully a prominent American legal reporter as retaliation for his accurate and detailed coverage of the oil giant's recent courtroom setbacks in the Ecuador pollution case.

The attacks against 34-year-old journalist Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News appear to be part of a wider company strategy to intimidate journalists, environmental advocates, and supporters of Ecuadorian indigenous and farmer communities who have held Chevron accountable in court for its admitted practice of discharging billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest. For background on the case against Chevron and the company's retaliation campaign, see this summary of the evidence, this article from Rolling Stone, and this overview of Chevron's crimes and fraud in Ecuador from Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the affected villagers.

The latest installment of Chevron's intimidation model – the one against Klasfeld – is being orchestrated by CRC Public relations with headquarters in Arlington, Virgina. That's the same outfit that ran the "Swift Boat for Truth" campaign questioning John Kerry's patriotism when he was the Democratic nominee during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Klasfeld has written several articles in recent weeks on developments in the two-decade litigation that run counter to Chevron's narrative that it was the victim of fraud in Ecuador. One can access these articles via the search option at the website of Courthouse News; we link to some of the most important ones in this post.

The "Swift Boat" effort not only grievously damaged Kerry's prospects, but is widely seen as one of the most dishonest smear campaigns in history. That Chevron would hire CRC for any purpose shows the lengths to which the company will go to wield its muscle against its perceived enemies.

Also working on behalf of Chevron to target Klasfeld is Sam Singer of Singer Associates, a longtime Chevron public relations "crisis communication" firm in San Francisco. Singer has been known to secretly pay supposedly independent bloggers to parrot Chevron's public relations talking points on the litigation, among many other unethical activities. See this report from the San Fransico Weekly ("Trust Me: Who Are You Gonna Believe, Sam Singer or Your Own Eyes?") for background on how he has tried to help Chevron elect hand-picked candidates in a California town where a recent fire at the company's refinery forced 15,000 people to seek medical attention.

In recent weeks, several employees of CRC and Singer Associates went after Klasfeld on Twitter after he reported details of an explosive new forensic report that blows up Chevron's defense to the Ecuador judgment. The report was written by a noted American computer forensic expert (J. Christopher Racich) who examined the hard drives of Ecuadorian trial judge Nicolas Zambrano and found the Word document that became the 188-page judgment against Chevron was saved hundreds of times on his office computer over a four-month period. For Klasfeld's story on the new report, see here.

Chevron is in a serious jam because in 2013 it had paid a corrupt Ecuadorian witness, Alberto Guerra, roughly $2 million in cash and benefits and moved his entire family to the U.S. so he would testify falsely in U.S. court that the plaintiffs wrote the judgment and gave it to the trial judge on a flash drive just before it was issued. The Racich report is simply another layer of proof on top of the already evidence demonstrating that Guerra is a liar. (For background on how Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero paid Guerra cash out of a suitcase to get him to become a paid witness for the company, see here.)

The specific details of the cyberbullying are outlined in an article for Courthouse News by Klasfeld titled "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" in reference to the movie Michael Clayton.

As Klasfeld wrote,

Courthouse News blew the lid on a secret forensic analysis of the computer hard drives of Ecuadorean Judge Nicolas Zambrano, whose name appears on a $9.8 billion judgment against Chevron, and to date nobody has suggested this article is inaccurate.

Although Chevron has long alleged that lawyers for Ecuadorian villagers secretly wrote the verdict against it, the article revealed what have now become undisputed facts.

The data on Zambrano's computers includes a Microsoft Word document that appears to be a running draft of the judgment. This document was saved "hundreds" of times on both of the computers over four months, and the author names of the supposed ghostwriters do not appear in any files or emails on the hard drives.

The reason for the anger of Chevron's management team at Klasfeld is understandable – its defense to the underlying environmental case is falling apart after the company spent an estimated $2 billion to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel to fend off the villagers. Chevron's top brass does not want that failure exposed. But the targeting of a journalist who reports it is inexcusable.

It is worth noting that CRC Public Relations is headed by political and corporate attack specialist Greg Mueller, whose Twitter account was one of those used to target Klasfeld. Mueller is the proud Bad Boy of the Republican Right and he makes millions in fees playing the part.

CRC was involved in a campaign to torpedo the nomination of Sonya Sotomayor, the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the force behind a series of vicious attack ads targeting supporters of ObamaCare. The company also has close ties to the the Virginia-based Media Research Center, a shadowy non-profit used by corporations to tar journalists who write about climate change and other topics considered unfriendly to the interests of CRC's clients.

Another source of agita in the Chevron camp is that its retaliatory "racketeering" case in the U.S. against the affected villagers and their lawyers has not stopped lawsuits targeting the company's assets in Canada and Brazil. The judgment in Ecuador was confirmed by eight separate appellate judges in the court system where Chevron insisted the trial be held. Further, Chevron is going to have major problems trying to use its star witness Guerra to block enforcement actions given his utter lack of credibility.

Klasfeld's apparent "sin" in Chevron's eyes is that he reported a key development that the company prefers to keep hidden. While at times we have disagreed with his reporting, Klasfeld clearly has guts. That's far more than one can say about other legal reporters like Michael Goldhaber of American Lawyer and Fortune's Roger Parloff who seem wedded to the oil giant's narrative and have yet to write about the new forensic report. (For more on the bias in Parloff's reporting, see here. For details of Goldhaber's tilt toward Chevron, see here.)

That Chevron is responsible for the ecological calamity in Ecuador known as the Amazon Chernobyl is beyond dispute. Not only has the disaster been confirmed by dozens of independent journalists who have visited the country, during the eight-year trial in Ecuador a Chevron executive admitted the company (operating as Texaco) discharged billions of gallons of oil waste into streams and rivers relied on by local residents for their drinking water. The dumping decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer that has killed numerous people and has been confirmed by independent peer-reviewed health evaluations.

Despite clear evidence that the story about the "ghostwriting" of the judgment is false, Chevron CEO John Watson and General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate continue to push it in their public statements. The new report by Mr. Racich has not caused these men to walk back even an inch from their claims. That is itself evidence of an intent by Chevron to mislead shareholders and the financial markets about the risk faced by the company.

Klasfeld no doubt also bothered Chevron when he pressed to gain access to a secret investor arbitration proceeding where the oil giant – in what can only be described as act of sheer chutzpah – is pushing for a taxpayer-funded bailout (by Ecuadorian citizens) of its pollution liability in the rainforest. That investor arbitration proceeding, which bars journalists and the public as well as the lawyers for the Ecuadorian communities, has been subject to withering criticism for violating due process and fundamental principles of international law.

Klasfeld is not alone in being attacked by a corporate polluter that acts as if it is above accountability.

The list of journalists who have been targeted by Chevron for reporting on the impact of its pump-and-dump operation in Ecuador is getting longer. They include the award-winning writer William Langewiesche of Vanity Fair, who in 2007 published a fascinating story about lead Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo. They also include 60 Minutes, which in a 2009 report exposed part of Chevron's deceit in Ecuador. There are many others we know about whose articles were deep-sixed under Chevron pressure during the editing process.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press should investigate Chevron for its intimidation campaign against independent journalists. In the meantime, Klasfeld and Courthouse News deserve kudos for reporting on Chevron's misdeeds without fear or favor.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fortune Focuses On Brad Pitt While Ignoring Key Developments In Ecuador Pollution Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Roger Parloff's reporting for Fortune about Chevron's growing pollution liability in Ecuador – where he ignores devastating new evidence that the oil giant's defenses are unraveling – is on display yet again with a blog claiming that Brad Pitt has interest in making a movie about the litigation.

This is a great example of how a legal reporter misses the point. A good part of Chevron's Ecuador house is burning down, and Parloff focuses on the tricycle in the front yard.

Parloff's obvious sympathy for Chevron and his refusal to publish our letters calling him out for his errors has been well-documented on these pages and elsewhere, including in this post by activist-journalist Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch. By consistently engaging in reportorial hijinks when covering the historic case, Parloff deprives Fortune's readers of critical information and undermines his credibility and that of his employer.

Parloff's latest post was about Pitt's supposed interest in a movie focused on Steven Donziger, the U.S. lawyer who helped hold Chevron accountable for dumping billions of gallons of oil waste into the rainforest. According to Parloff, Pitt beat out George Clooney for the rights to the story. Yet neither Pitt nor Clooney nor Donziger confirm any involvement.

While trying to write cute stories about movies, Parloff continues to ignore critical substantive developments in the case that contradict Chevron's narrative that the company has been victimized by the very rainforest communities it poisoned. In 2013, after 11 years of legal proceedings in Chevron's chosen forum, Ecuador's Supreme Court in a 220-page decision affirmed a trial court judgment finding that the company had deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into rainforest waterways when it operated in Ecuador (under the Texaco brand) from 1964 to 1992.

Since Parloff last reported on the Ecuador pollution matter in depth, three critical facts have emerged that have seriously undermined – if not completely blown up – the contrary civil findings of U.S. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in Chevron's retaliatory racketeering case. Neither Fortune nor Parloff have reported these developments even though they suggest nefarious efforts by Chevron's lawyers to frame Donziger as revenge for winning a historic $9.5 billion judgment against the company.

(Judge Kaplan's determination that a fraud occurred, which is under appeal, contradicts the findings of eight separate appellate judges in Ecuador that actually had access to the record evidence. Kaplan refused to admit any evidence of Chevron's pollution in Ecuador nor look at the Ecuador trial record. For background on how Chevron made a mockery of justice in Kaplan's courtroom, see here.)

The first critical fact ignored by Parloff is a new forensic examination of the computer of the Ecuador trial judge that emerged recently in a related investor arbitration between Chevron and Ecuador's government. That report – by one of the world's leading authorities on the subject, J. Christopher Racich – found that the trial court judgment against Chevron was written painstakingly by the judge over a period of months on his office computer.

Chevron had claimed Donziger had orchestrated the writing of the judgment and that it had been given to the judge on a flash drive just before it was issued. Donziger has categorically and repeatedly denied the allegation under oath and there is zero forensic evidence to support it. Let's just say the Racich report confirms Donziger is telling the truth, Chevron is lying, and Kaplan (who has undisclosed investments in Chevron) got it wrong.

Also ignored by Parloff is the related issue of how Chevron paid its star witness who testified falsely about the ghostwriting story, a crooked former Ecuadorian judge named Alberto Guerra, tens of thousands of dollars in cash out of suitcase and upwards of $2 million in benefits. You get the picture: Chevron purchased false witness testimony in violation of the ethical rules (read this affidavit by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky) and used it to frame adversary counsel. That might explain why Chevron lawyers coached Guerra for 53 consecutive days before putting him on the stand.

The Racich report and payments to Guerra not only eradicate the last remnants of Chevron's credibility in the company's New York case, they utterly destroy the key factual predicate of Judge Kaplan's deeply flawed decision against Donziger and his clients. Kaplan, who for years disparaged Donziger and the Ecuadorians from the bench, did not have access to the Racich report.

(For a summary of the Racich report, see this filing by Donziger attorney Deepak Gupta. While Fortune ignored the filing, Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News did report extensively on the Racich conclusions.)

The second key development ignored by Parloff was the release in early April of explosive internal Chevron videotapes that expose an elaborate ruse by company scientists to defraud Ecuador's courts by only "finding" clean soil samples at clearly polluted sites during the eight-year trial. The videos, turned over to Amazon Watch by a Chevron whistleblower, were first published by Vice News and have been rampaging across the internet for the last several weeks. They also show Chevron scientists laughing at the pollution at well sites the company had previously certified as remediated.

Again, nothing from Parloff and institutional silence from Fortune.

Finally, in a devastating setback for Chevron, a panel of investor arbitrators sympathetic to the company recently nullified the oil giant's primary defense to the pollution allegations. Chevron had tried to claim that it was absolved of all liability for the pollution based on what turned out to be a sham remediation conducted in the 1990s; both the arbitrators and three layers of courts in Ecuador have now rejected the defense. For background on how Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate has misled shareholders on the issue, don't read Fortune because it's not there.

See our own blog posting of the panel's decision here or read the Courthouse News version here.

Instead of focusing on the emergence of new evidence, Parloff wrote a largely unsourced post about a possible movie in a clear attempt to pump up his friend Paul Barrett's pro-Chevron book on the litigation. Barrett's one-sided take has earned him a possible defamation lawsuit for distorting facts and fabricating scenes. It also has received poor reviews from the likes of prominent writer Peter Maas. (Donziger's "notice of defamation" letter to Barrett and his publisher can be read here.)

Barrett and Parloff have a mutual interest in stroking each other. In his own reporting for Businessweek, Barrett also has ignored the Racich report, the arbitration decision, and Chevron's videos. So did Michael Goldhaber of American Lawyer. Along with Parloff, Barrett and Goldhaber have a history of being wedded to Chevron's narrative and they often quote each other's articles. (Goldhaber had the audacity to write a short book about the case without even visiting Ecuador or interviewing any of Chevron's victims.)

Also ignored by Fortune is any serious examination of how Chevron's management team is in trouble after having invested an estimated $2 billion of company funds to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel to try to beat back the communities and Donziger (described as a "warhorse lawyer" according to Rolling Stone). Many of Chevron's largest shareholders are seeking the scalp of Chevron CEO John Watson after he was reprimanded over his mishandling of the Ecuador matter during a recent annual meeting.

In his Hollywood blog, Parloff also writes that Donziger's attorneys "for the most part" have not disputed Judge Kaplan's findings that a bribe occurred in Ecuador. That's not true and proves how intellectually dishonest Parloff can be.

Donziger and his attorneys have disputed the bribe and just about every one of Kaplan's "findings" as is made clear by the first 70 pages of the lawyer's appellate brief. Parloff also ignores Donziger's comprehensive 5,000-word takedown of Chevron's environmental crimes and fraud in Ecuador in an article published recently by the legal media outlet Law360.com. Donziger has made it clear at every turn that there was no bribe and that it was Chevron that repeatedly tried to corrupt and sabotage the Ecuador trial, as this sworn affidavit (also ignored by Fortune and Parloff) explains in detail.

While Parloff ignores these new developments, they clearly have planted seeds of doubt about Kaplan's decision in a federal appellate panel that seems highly skeptical of Chevron's forum shopping and bad faith. For more on that, see this article by – you guessed it – a Fortune competitor.

There are many who pay the price for Fortune's apparent inability to report the Ecuador litigation in a balanced way – starting with the magazine's own readers. It shouldn't be hard for a magazine to present two points of view in a contested litigation. Fortune and Parloff need to step it up.


(Editor's Note: For a copy of our letter to Fortune submitted in 2013 criticizing Parloff for errors in a prior story about the Ecuador litigation, see here. Fortune still has refused to print the letter.)

Donny Rico Schools Chevron on How To "Be the Victim" in Ecuador

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon


First we're told that money = speech, now we're told speaking out is against the law. If you're not worried about what Donny Rico is talking about, you "damn well should be!"

Do you care about reining in corporate power and calling out injustice? Your very rights as a citizen? Watch and share the latest in the Adventures of Donny Rico series by Pulitzer winner Mark Fiore, unraveling the tale of Chevron's grotesque abuse of the legal system to fabricate a fraud case against Ecuadorian victims and their lawyers. While this case is under appeal and likely to be overturned, it's been destructive to our work to protect the environment and to challenge corporate misdeeds.

Corporate power in America is at an all-time high. The Citizens United decision equating money with speech is a threat to the very foundation of our democracy. And now, thanks to Chevron's actions and a dangerous decision by a federal judge, corporations can also criminalize YOUR speech.

Global challenges like the climate change crisis are already being felt around this planet that we share, and our most powerful tool as a caring community is our collective voice. Yet speaking out about making real and lasting change means, among other things, confronting bad actors in the energy industry. U.S. citizens rely on the constitutional right to call out corporate crimes and to pressure them with legal and grassroots actions. But how will shareholders know about activities harming the community and environment if actions to tell them are criminalized and activists intimidated?

When Chevron launched its vicious retaliation against Ecuadorian communities, their lawyers and allies, they also included the environmental community. Having 60 law firms and millions to spend, they came up with a nefarious method to strike at us. And rather than suing us head on – which would have opened THEIR files to discovery – they tagged us as "co-conspirators" in their RICO action and tried to get the court to force us to turn over ALL of our internal information about their environmental disaster in Ecuador and the campaign to force them to clean it up. Had we not received the excellent pro-bono services of Earthrights International, we would not have been able to fight for over a year to prevent this from happening and to ultimately prevail.

Yet Chevron still got a lot of what it wanted. They tied us up, affected our image and may well have scared away much needed support for our work. You and your organization could easily be next. Pro-corporate advocates like the Americans for Tort Reform have called this the "new playbook to go after corporate gadflies."

The Donny Rico series from Pulitzer winner Mark Fiore tells the tale in five short animations of how Chevron abused the legal system to fabricate a fraud case against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers. This case is under appeal and likely to be overturned. Regardless, this has done enormous damage to our work to protect the environment and to challenge corporate misdeeds. As the brief filed for the appeal by Amazon Watch, Amnesty International, and 15 other human rights and environmental NGOs states:

"In essence, this case is an effort by Chevron to retaliate against Ecuadorian villagers, their lawyers, and their supporters for suing, bringing public pressure, and petitioning government agencies to hold Chevron accountable for violations of human rights. The district court's decision below, if allowed to stand, poses a severe threat to the rights to expression, association, political participation, and access to courts guaranteed by the First Amendment. If the vaguely defined scope and heavy penalties of RICO – enacted to support law enforcement efforts against organized crime syndicates – may be wielded by private parties against public interest groups and activists who engage in First Amendment-protected activities to seek to hold those private parties accountable, democracy itself is threatened."

When Amazon Watch issues a press release, holds a demonstration, or even puts out a "Donny Rico" animation to educate the public about Chevron's environmental crimes in Ecuador, Chevron charges that we're acting illegally. All this despite our independent knowledge of their acts in Ecuador and over a decade of experience on the ground with the affected communities. Not to mention the recent and damning secret videos we released thanks to a Chevron whistleblower (did you see and share that?!).

Donny Rico is a voice for us, something everyone who cares about reining in corporate power and calling out injustice must watch and share. Public awareness of this must grow if we are to defend our right to free speech and implement reforms. Hundreds of thousands of messages have already been sent to members of the U.S. Senate asking for their help in stopping this. Please watch and share the Adventures of Donny Rico series and take action today!

Monday, April 20, 2015

On Eve of Ecuador Pollution Trial, Chevron (Predictably) Stalls

Reposted from AmericaBlog

Yesterday, in what they'd like to have come off as a higher-road detour, Chevron made a big deal about dropping the fraud claims against one of the major funders of the plaintiffs in the Chevron/ Ecuador pollution case, the London-based Woodsford group. This will certainly be nice PR, but it might also be useful in that Chevron no longer has to squirm in court as overwhelmingly condemning evidence against them continues to flow, unchecked.

As Chevron continues to flail and cry like a child who refuses to pick up his toys, the fraud allegations against the fundraising group that has been supporting not even the Ecuadorian villagers, but their foreign lawyers, amounted to nothing more than yet another tantrum designed to stall the legal process. But Chevron didn't even believe its own bluster, and so we see their last-minute swerve, dropping the ridiculous claims in this game of chicken.

The oil giant is continuing to claim, as they will in today's appeal, that the legal team representing the poisoned and polluted Ecuadorian villagers acted like a crime syndicate in falsifying their evidence in court and paying off key players. If you can't remember why that sounds familiar, it's from the time that Chevron actually did act like a crime syndicate in falsifying their evidence in court and paying off key players. We've also had a lot of time between last year's trial and today's appeal to consider how Chevron's star witness had trouble remembering which version of their story to tell, and how Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of Chevron without the aid of a jury or the plaintiff's main body of evidence.

In case today's trial doesn't go well, though, Chevron can point media to the dubious consolation prize of these dropped charges. If that, too, sounds familiar, it might be from last year, when Chevron decided to “pardon” the Ecuadorian legal team at the last minute for, as Chevron claimed, filing "bogus" charges against them. The gall it takes to mount an “I know you are, but what am I?” defense amid such obvious evidence of wrongdoing is, really, quite astonishing.

That dropped charge, by the way, was the very one that would have necessitated a jury to be present for last year's trial. Throw out the charges and the jury, and you get the judge who was able to rule unilaterally in favor of Chevron, in order to protect them from suffering even more "high legal fees" and "harm to its reputation." Because while justice may be blind, it has a nose for brand loyalty.

Putting aside the ludicrous nature of Chevron appealing to every court it can, including the Hague, to protest the lack of fairness the corporate multinational has suffered at the hands of leukemia- and cancer-plagued indigenous farmers, the question remains as to why New York is where the trial is taking place at all. Why is a court based in New York able to stand in judgement of a foreign legal process? How disgraceful is it that the Ecuadorian villagers have had to go through foreign legal teams and financial backers to get justice for ongoing crime in their own land? If Chevron is so guilty that the fact that Ecuador is polluted because of them isn't even in question anymore, what could possibly be left to argue?

If today's decision lets Chevron off the hook again, corporate giants will look to Chevron's playbook of denial for inspiration. Next up: How BP has the balls, literally, to deny ongoing Deepwater Horizon damage.

It's all just too familiar.