Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Blow to Chevron, Judges Rule That Ecuador Pollution Dispute Belongs in the Courts of Ecuador

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

A five-judge panel from a respected New York appeals court has dealt a blow to Chevron in a dispute between two groups of villagers related to the company's $9.5 billion pollution liability in Ecuador.

In a decision issued this week, the court unanimously ruled that any dispute among Ecuadorian villagers over the distribution of proceeds from the historic judgement should be heard in the same courts that issued it. American law professor Judith Kimerling, who claims to represent a handful of indigenous families out of an estimated 30,000 affected Ecuadorian villagers, had asked the New York trial court to issue an order that her clients were entitled to a proportional share of the proceeds.

Kimerling's theory was sound but her choice of forum was nuts from the get go. Although she purports to be a human rights lawyer, in reality she was doing the bidding of Chevron by attacking Ecuador's courts as incapable of dealing with the dispute. She could not point to a single instance in the history of American jurisprudence where a U.S. court tried to resolve competing claims among foreign citizens over the proceeds of a foreign judgment issued in the courts of their own country.

The latest appellate court decision, issued unanimously, is a direct rebuke to Chevron and raises yet more questions about the wrongheaded approach of U.S. trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan in a similar case brought by the oil giant.

At Chevron's request, Kaplan in 2014 refused to seat a jury and then entered a bizarre and unprecedented order that tries to block the Ecuadorians from collecting the proceeds of their judgment anywhere in the world. Kaplan refused to even review the 105 technical evidentiary reports that demonstrated Chevron had deliberately disposed of its toxic waste in the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer that has cost the lives of numerous local residents.

Dozens of international law scholars filed a "friend of the court" brief blasting Kaplan's decision as a violation of international law. The Kaplan ruling is under appeal before a separate federal panel.

In the meantime, just a few blocks away, five judges from a New York state appeals court used logic and common sense sorely lacking in Kaplan's courtroom. The court agreed with Steven R. Donziger, a New York attorney who has represented the affected communities in Ecuador for two decades. Donziger had argued that any dispute over the judgment obviously should be resolved in the nation that conducted the trial.

According to the state appellate court,

"Ecuador is the forum more convenient to the parties and witnesses in New York; there is no unfairness in requiring plaintiffs to prosecute their claims in Ecuador where they reside; the underlying litigation took place there; the underlying judgment to which plaintiffs claim a proportional share, was issued there; and defendant Amazon Defense Coalition, which was directed to distribute the proceeds of the judgment, is domiciled there."

Donziger, in his own statement, praised the court's logic and implicitly criticized Kaplan:

"The New York state appellate court properly recognized that issues related to an Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron should be resolved by the courts of Ecuador, not by U.S. trial judges who not only lack jurisdiction but have no expertise regarding Ecuadorian law or procedure."

One must remember that Ecuador's courts spent 11 years in trial and appellate proceedings only because Chevron insisted the trial be held there after the original action was filed in New York in 1993. Once damning evidence of extensive contamination was presented in Chevron's preferred courts of Ecuador, the oil company shifted gears and began to attack the very judicial system it had previously praised.

In the meantime, Chevron came back to the same U.S. court where it had blocked the original case to beg Judge Kaplan to try to rescue it from the Ecuadorian judgment. Kaplan – who has undisclosed investments in Chevron – was more than happy to oblige. He allowed the oil giant to present fabricated witness testimony and otherwise make a mockery of justice in his courtroom, as this document explains. (For Donziger's explanation of the case, see this article from The Huffington Post and this legal brief appealing Judge Kaplan's decision.)

In the meantime, the affected villagers are not waiting around to hear from U.S. courts. They have hired counsel in Canada and Brazil where they are pursuing Chevron's assets to force the company to comply with the rule of law. Chevron has responded in its usual fashion to its latest spate of bad news – by trying to cyberbully a respected journalist who exposed that its entire defense to the judgment is falling apart.

For Donziger's full statement on the recent court decision, see this press release. For the court's full decision, see here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Nation Magazine Exposes Chevron's Lies About Its Toxic Dumping in Ecuador

More journalists are beginning to expose the lies behind Chevron's retaliation campaign against the indigenous and farmer communities who held it accountable in a court of law for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador's rainforest.

The communities own a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron, but the company refuses to pay even though it had accepted jurisdiction in Ecuador's courts and insisted the trial be held in the South American nation.

The latest to weigh in: James North of The Nation.

In a fascinating article called Ecuador's Battle for Environmental Justice In Ecuador, North describes a trip he took recently to the affected area of rainforest that Texaco claims it had remediated after operating there from 1964 to 1992. North describes a trip with Donald Moncayo, a local resident:

We set off into the rainforest.  Moncayo...started at Aguarico 2, a well that has been closed for years... The oily residue is still floating on the surface. Then he marched down a steep slope to a stream, where you could see and smell the oil as well.

Moncayo then took North to a well site called Lago 2 -- one that Texaco in 1998 specifically had certified as "remediated" to Ecuador's government in exchange for a bogus "release" that it still tries to argue absolves it of all legal responsibility. This is how North describes it:

Moncayo went to Pozo Lago 2, which is near the modest wood-frame house where he lives with his wife and baby daughter. He pulled out his core sampler and set to work. After only a meter and a half, he struck some viscosity; before two meters, he hit heavy oil soak... Less than 50 yards away, people were washing in a stream.

North also takes certain legal reporters in the mainstream media to task for adopting Chevron's world view that it has been victimized by the very people in Ecuador that it poisoned. He writes:

On closer inspection, the truth is totally different. If the plaintiffs finally win in the end, the rain-forest inhabitants will not just have their habitat start to be cleansed of the oil muck that oozes into their water supply, or enjoy improved health facilities to treat what they argue are elevated levels of cancer and other diseases. They will also have proved the success of an innovative legal strategy that recruits financial help in the rich developed world to provide at least a fighting chance against a corporate colossus like Chevron, which has already spent, by some estimates, $2 billion it its massive legal and propaganda campaign.

Aside from from North, other journalists to expose Chevron's wrongdoing in Ecuador in recent years include Alexander Zaitchik of Rolling Stone, who summarized the company's unethical intimidation tactics;  William Langewiesche of Vanity Fair, who wrote a stirring profile of Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo; and the producers of 60 Minutes, whose award-winning segment Amazon Crude aired in 2009.

Most recently, Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News -- himself a victim of Chevron's cyberbullying for his independent reporting -- exposed that the oil giant had donated a whopping $13 million to the U.S. State Department while inappropriately trying to lobby Hillary Clinton and other government officials over the Ecuador litigation. Klasfeld earlier reported on a new forensic analysis that suggests Chevron presented false evidence about the case to a U.S. federal judge.

The underlying environmental matter was heard in Ecuador at Chevron's request after the company praised the country's justice system to move the matter out of U.S. federal court. The litigation in Ecuador resulted in a Supreme Court decision in 2013 that requires the oil giant to remediate more than 1,000 toxic waste pits as well as rivers and streams where the company discharged an additional 15 billion gallons of oil waste.

For background on the case and Chevron's retaliation campaign, see this summary of the evidence and this legal brief  from Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the Ecuadorian communities.

You can also learn from North's article why Chevron and its CEO John Watson so hate Ecuador President Rafael Correa.

Correa has the temerity to call out Chevron for its malfeasence, much like President Obama did to BP in 2010 after its spill in the Gulf of Mexico. North quotes Correa accusing Chevron of "shamelessly lying" to evade paying for a clean-up in Ecuador. Correa also explains what already has been confirmed by three layers of courts: Chevron polluted deliberately to inflate its profits.

"They weren't interested in the human beings who lived in the Amazon region,"  Correa said. "To me, it is question of racism."

Thank you, President Correa. We could not have said it better. And thanks to James North and The Nation for highlighting this latest sad chapter in corporate wrongdoing.



Monday, June 1, 2015

Judge Kaplan's Decision for Chevron Based on Falsified Evidence, Says New Report

Reposted from the The Chevron Pit

Chevron is on the ropes yet again in the Ecuador pollution case as its main defense continues to unravel, according to prominent appellate lawyer Deepak Gupta of the Gupta Beck law firm in Washington, D.C.

An explosive new forensic report from Ecuador's government filed recently before a federal appellate court in New York proves that U.S. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan accepted false evidence from a paid witness to try to help Chevron evade paying its $9.5 billion pollution liability to rainforest villagers in the South American nation, according to Gupta. Gupta's letter brief on the issue can be read here.

Gupta has charged Chevron with presenting false testimony to try to frame his client, New York-based human rights lawyer Steven R. Donziger. Chevron's goal for years has been to evade paying the court judgment in its chosen forum of Ecuador, primarily by trying to demonize Donziger to distract attention from its own crimes and fraud. Donziger has been working on the case for 22 years.

Chevron executive Rodrigo Perez Pallares admitted during an eight-year trial in Ecuador that the company dumped at least 15 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into streams and rivers in Ecuador relied on by indigenous groups for their drinking water, bathing, and fishing. Multiple health evaluations have found skyrocketing cancer rates in the affected area. A half-hearted Chevron remediation turned out to be a sham; even Chevron's own technical reports proved during the trial that its former well sites were contaminated with life-threatening toxins. (For a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron see, here.)

Donziger and one of his Ecuadorian colleagues, Goldman Prize winner Pablo Fajardo, have been the primary targets of a Chevron smear campaign that involves at least six public relations firms. One of those firms, CRC Public Relations, is notorious for having executed the Swift Boat campaign attacking John Kerry's patriotism in the 2004 presidential campaign.

In his latest filing, Gupta accused Judge Kaplan of accepting the false testimony from disgraced former Ecuadorian trial judge Alberto Guerra as part of Chevron's strategy to exact revenge against the lawyers who helped the villagers win their historic judgment. (For the specific details of Guerra's false testimony, see this legal brief.)

Gupta demonstrates in his latest brief that Chevron's main allegation -- that lawyers for the villagers "ghostwrote" the trial judgment -- is irrefutably false.

Gupta points out that after being found guilty in Ecuador, Chevron looked for a way to blow up the judgment against it. It suddenly found a man (Guerra) who had been defrocked as a judge in Ecuador for accepting bribes. At the time, he was making $500 monthly but was willing to accuse Donziger (whom he had met briefly on two occasions) and Fajardo of orchestrating the "ghostwriting" of the 188-page trial court judgment in exchange for a princely fee.

Guerra struck a deal with Chevron to be paid $2 million in cash and benefits. He then told a story that the document that became the trial court judgment in Ecuador was given to the trial judge (Nicolas Zambrano) on a flash drive just days before it was issued.

Donziger, who has never received an ethics complaint in 23 years of law practice and who had never even met or seen the trial judge who wrote the judgment, always claimed that testimony was a lie. But how do you prove a negative?

Enter the new forensic report that became available only after Kaplan made his horrendously flawed findings of ghostwriting.  Based on an examination of the hard drives of the office computer of the Ecuadorian trial judge, the report clearly demonstrates that the Word document that became the judgment was saved no fewer than 484 times on the computer of the trial judge in the four months before it was issued. So much for Guerra's flash drive story.

Gupta's brief explains how the new report, prepared by American computer expert J. Christopher Racich ("Racich report") for a related arbitration proceeding between Chevron and Ecuador's government, blows the lid off the oil major's defense.

Gupta nails Chevron for corrupting the court process:

"On this record, and even more so in light of the new forensic analysis not available to the district court, it is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Donziger was framed by Chevron on the basis of a paid witness who admitted to making false statements to sweeten his deal with Chevron."

For good measure, Gupta added that the Racich report proves "Guerra's story was a lie designed to net him a massive payout from Chevron." You would have to be obtuse not to figure that out even before the Racich report was disclosed.

But Kaplan, who called Donziger a "field general" and allowed Chevron to make a mockery of the rule of law in his courtroom, still credited Guerra's internally inconsistent and wholly unreliable testimony.

Chevron's exorbitant payments to Guerra were themselves an utterly indefensible act as federal law prohibits payments to fact witnesses. None other than distinguished Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has confirmed this in a sworn affidavit that Kaplan predictably ignored.

It gets worse. Before taking the stand, Chevron lawyers coached Guerra on what he would say for 53 consecutive days. Those engaged in this unprecedented witness "prep" for Chevron were Avi Weitzman, Andrea Neumann, Reed Brodsky and Randy Mastro. That group hails from a law firm (Gibson Dunn & Crutcher) that the High Court of England recently found falsified evidence in another case to try to frame a man who had become a threat to another of its high-profile clients.

Sound familiar?

Guerra has gotten rich off of Chevron. Among the other perks the oil giant provided for his testimony: immigration from Ecuador to the U.S. for several family members, health insurance, housing, a car, and a team of lawyers to help him secure political asylum. He lives in a secret location in the U.S. under Chevron's protection.

Donziger repeatedly has called Chevron's allegations a frame-up and criticized Judge Kaplan for making disparaging comments from the bench. (Kaplan referred to the affected communities as the "so-called" plaintiffs "said to reside" in the rainforest.) Donziger also exposed that Kaplan held undisclosed investments in Chevron during the trial, further un-endearing himself to a judge widely known for his bullying tendencies.

(For more detail on Kaplan's bias against Donziger and his clients, see this petition to remove him from the case.)

Donziger and a team of Ecuadorian lawyers secured the judgment against Chevron after eight years of hard-fought litigation where the oil giant repeatedly tied to corrupt and paralyze the proceedings. At one point, Chevron threatened the judge with jail time if he refused to grant a company motion to nullify the proceedings. At another point, the company filed 39 duplicative motions in 50 minutes to throw sand into the gears of the court. For part of the background on the company's corruption, see this affidavit from Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz.

As if 105 technical evidentiary reports proving contamination was not enough evidence, just recently a Chevron whistleblower turned over internal company videos showing the oil giant's scientists laughing at the pollution at well sites in Ecuador that the company claimed to have remediated.

The judgment against Chevron was affirmed by two separate appellate courts in Ecuador, including by the country's Supreme Court in a unanimous 5-0 decision. The judgment was based almost completely on scientific evidence Chevron itself put before the court. The damages are relatively modest compared to the $30 billion paid out by BP for the far smaller Gulf of Mexico spill.

Even though Chevron insisted the the trial be held in Ecuador, as the evidence mounted the company quickly became a sore loser and announced it would never pay the judgment. In 2011, it sued Donziger and Fajardo in New York for roughly $60 billion -- thought to be the largest potential personal liability in U.S. history. Yet Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate had so little confidence in his own evidence that he dropped the entire damages claim on the eve of trial to avoid a jury of impartial fact finders.

Chevron's 32-year-old forensic expert Spencer Lynch -- who also examined the trial judge's hard drives -- had no answer for the Racich report. He has tried to claim flash drives were used in the judge's computer 56 times during the four-month period the judgment was written. But Racich showed that not a single one of those flash drives contained the judgment or any related documents. Most contained personal items such as family photos.

We might add that CEO John Watson had no answer to the Racich report either when confronted about it by Ecuadorian indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje at the company's annual meeting last week.  See here for how Watson continues to mislead his own shareholders about the Ecuador case.

The question now is whether the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit can absorb this disturbing evidence and reverse a case where a federal judge so clearly relied on false evidence for his factual findings.

(For Donziger's view of the case, see this article in The Huffington Post and this article published on the legal website Law360.)

Seven Years Documenting Chevron's Environmental Crimes in Ecuador Pollution Case

Reposted from the Huffington Post

After 11 years of litigation in the South American country, eight Ecuador judges have either awarded or affirmed a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron, which it refuses to pay. For background on the Ecuadorians' long-running litigation against Chevron, see here.

Seven years ago this month, I traveled to Ecuador's rainforest to learn about one of the world's largest environmental oil disasters.

It was a life-changing trip.

I wish I were a good enough writer to describe the experience and do it justice. Words and pictures are all that I have ever had to fight Chevron's efforts to deny justice to the 30,000 or so people forced to live with five decades of extremely toxic oil contamination left by Texaco exploration. (Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.)

60 Minutes and Rolling Stone came closest to capturing the horrific devastation and suffering caused by both oil giants.

As the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians and one of their attorneys, Steven Donziger, I have tried to bring to life this tragic, faraway reality in hundreds of press releases, interviews, tweets and over a dozen blogs I wrote for the Huffington Post.

Today, though, will be my last blog because I've taken a new job.

So here's my final missive, which includes a plea to Chevron and a thank-you to my courageous colleagues.

Chevron CEO John Watson and General Counsel Hewitt Pate could end much misery by stepping outside the courtroom and into the lives of the Ecuadorian indigenous. They could listen to their stories. They could help them clean up what Texaco contaminated.

Will they help? Or, will they become known as the two men who spent at least $1 billion in legal fees to block assistance to the poorest and most disenfranchised people in Ecuador?

Oddly enough, we have Chevron to thank for memorializing some of these stories. A Chevron employee/whistleblower sent the environmental group Amazon Watch a box of videos, which included interviews Chevron conducted with villagers about Texaco's contamination as it was preparing for the Ecuador trial.

Merla, who lives near an oil site that Chevron said Texaco cleaned, told a Chevron cameraman this story in 2006, nine years ago.

Merla: We've had our cows die... They drank the water where the oil had spilled. Back then, that whole area was full of crude oil. The water there was filthy. They came and stopped the leak and they just left all of the crude oil there. It's pure crude there. In the middle, it's a thick ooze and you'd sink right down into it.

Chevron Interviewer: When was this oil spill?

Merla: More than 20 years ago... But I still remember it, how there was oil over everything. The cows still die there. They came, threw some dirt on top of the crude oil, and there it stayed.

Chevron Interviewer: How long ago did they cover up the pit?

Merla: 19 years... Texaco. They came here and just covered up the oil. They kept saying they were going to clean it up and they never did. And then they disappeared.

Chevron Interviewer: Did they remove the crude oil?

Merla: They dumped a lot of dirt on it and that was it.

Other stories are much worse than Merla's – stories about the death of young children, cancer victims who must travel six hours one way for treatment few can afford and infants with rashes all over their bodies.

2015-05-31-1433087327-7069496-photoone.jpeg

Photo by Lou Dematteis of man who later died of cancer

I chose Merla's because underneath the surface of her story is something so sinister it's almost impossible to comprehend.

From 1964 to 1990, Texaco dug huge unlined pits on the drilling sites to store left over toxic drilling muds. Over 900 of these pits remain today largely in the same shape that Texaco left them. Texaco also installed pipes in the pits to dump water laced with carcinogenic chemicals directly into streams and rivers that the indigenous used to drink, cook, and bathe in.

2015-05-31-1433096134-9235186-photopitpipe.jpeg

Photo by Lou Dematteis

Texaco did this to save money. Pure and simple.

Installed by military juntas, the government of Ecuador at that time cared less about the plight of the indigenous and poor villagers.

After the Ecuadorians filed their first lawsuit against Texaco in the U.S. in 1993, the company told Ecuador's government it would remediate some of the pits with the hope the limited "cleanup" would shut down the legal fight.

It didn't. And, as Merla explained, with good reason.

They dumped a lot of dirt on it and that was it.

That was it.

Some villagers, though, believed Texaco had cleaned the pits. So they moved and built homes near the pits that Texaco said it "cleaned," thinking they would be safer.

But they weren't. It was all a big hoax.

Texaco knew it. Chevron knows it.

Chevron's environmental engineers tested for and found contamination at the so-called "remediated" Texaco sites. (See this video of one of those "ah-ha" moments.)

Chevron's technicians also told Merla and others that they would return with help, but they never did.

Texaco lied and Chevron refused to expose the lie, doing nothing to help the people and the environment that Texaco harmed to maximize its profits.

Instead, it undertook a retaliatory campaign to distract attention away from Texaco's mess and demonize the attorneys, representing the Ecuadorians, and other environmentalists and human rights activists supporting them.

Instead, it hired a law firm, Gibson Dunn, and PR firms that pride themselves on helping multinational corporations get out of tough environmental trouble.

With this kind of firepower, Chevron thought the bleeding-heart, do-gooders would give up and go away and the plaintiff lawyers would tire of fronting the money for the litigation.

Chevron could have easily succeeded long ago, if not for a group of people in Ecuador and the U.S. committed to cleaning up the rainforest and bringing clean water and medical services to the people. I have had the honor of working with them for the past seven years:

Humberto Piaguaye, Luis Yanza, Steven Donziger, Pablo Fajardo

Piaguaye and Yanza have served as the voice of "Los Afectados" – the affected ones in the Ecuador rainforest. They have traveled the length and breadth of the rainforest to meet with campesinos (farmers) and indigenous peoples to keep them informed about the case and seek their input. Chevron and a U.S. judge cast doubt on our clients' actual existence, calling them the "so-called plaintiffs" – a reference meant to denigrate their lawsuit by casting them as the "imagination of American lawyers."

Piaguaye and Yanza know otherwise.

Donziger and Fajardo, the Ecuadorians' lead attorneys, have had their reputations smeared in court and in the news media, as a result of Chevron's retaliatory "fraud" campaign in the U.S.

No doubt they made mistakes in the case. Who wouldn't, given Chevron's never-ending pressure campaign across every level of the U.S. and Ecuador governments to get the Ecuadorians' lawsuit dismissed. It is true that the way the two attorneys handled the Cabrera expert report exhibited poor judgment, but it is also true that the Ecuador court threw out the report, as a result of Chevron's opposition to it. Another 105 expert reports still found massive contamination and even Chevron's tests found illegal levels of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals contaminating the water and land people depend on for sustenance.

When it became clear the Cabrera report would not be the undoing of the Ecuadorians and Donziger, who raised all of the funding for the lawsuit, Chevron decided to buy evidence it couldn't get otherwise, paying a corrupt former judge, Alberto Guerra, $2 million in cash and benefits to essentially frame Donziger and Fajardo, accusing them of bribing the sitting trial judge with $500,000 and ghostwriting the judgment themselves.

2 million dollars – that's four times as much as the alleged "bribe" to the sitting trial judge. Testifying he had accepted dozens of bribes in other, unrelated cases, Guerra willingly accepted what was, in essence, yet one more bribe in exchange for his testimony. It was a no brainer for him. This was his ticket out of Ecuador.

Today Guerra, his family, and his son's family all live in undisclosed locations in the U.S., on the Chevron dole for an undetermined amount of time. Guerra had less than $500 in his bank account when he began his application for political asylum, granted by Chevron's friends at the U.S. Department of State.

Recently, new forensic evidence from the Ecuador judge's computers became available, completely contradicting Guerra's paid testimony. The evidence showed the Ecuador judge wrote the judgment over a period of four months on his two computers. Donziger and the Ecuadorians are appealing the fraud charges and are asking the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the bribery and ghostwriting charges, clearing their names and upholding the integrity of the Ecuador judgment.

Meanwhile, Donziger, his wife and young child have had to endure Chevron's attacks as a result of his zealous representation of his clients. Somehow, through it all, Donziger has never stopped fighting for his clients, as well as for himself and his family. Legal threats (at one point, Chevron sued him for almost $60 billion), harassment and intimidation have never slowed him down.

Fajardo continues to work with other lawyers in Canada and Brazil, where the Ecuadorians are litigating against Chevron to seize company assets as payment for the judgment it refuses to pay in Ecuador. Winner of the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize, Fajardo also has been traveling across Europe to raise awareness.

These two aren't giving up anytime soon.

Juan Pablo Saenz, Julio Prieto, Donald Moncayo, Meg Garcia

Chevron calls these four Ecuadorians criminals and co-conspirators. I call them heroes. They also are salt of the Earth, good people, working tirelessly for little to no pay for years. The Ecuadorians' resources became extremely limited after Chevron sued their litigation funders, accusing them of continuing the fraud by providing resources to fight Chevron. The litigation funders caved to Chevron's pressure, but Saenz, Prieto, Moncayo and Garcia did not. They continue to shed light on Chevron's fraud, its misconduct and environmental crimes.

Amazon Watch: Paul Paz, Kevin Koenig, Mitch Anderson

Paul Paz y Mino and Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch and Mitch Anderson, a former Amazon Watch campaigner, have year after year organized protests and called attention to Chevron's misconduct at its annual shareholder meetings in the U.S., where socially conscious investors have questioned the company's refusal to help the Ecuadorians. Chevron, at one point, sued Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to obtain the emails of the three men (and the emails of about another 100 activists or so). With the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, they beat back Chevron's attempt to disregard their basic First Amendment rights.

Koenig and Anderson live in Ecuador full time, and Anderson oversees the Clear Water project, which provides clean drinking water for hundreds of rainforest inhabitants.

Aaron Page, Julio Gomez, Rick Friedman, Zoe Littlepage, Rainey Booth, Marissa Vahlsing, Sean Powers

While some of our U.S. lawyers cut and run following legal threats by Chevron and other pressure tactics, most stayed, and these attorneys took a very public role to defend Donziger and the Ecuadorians, not because they wanted to promote themselves in a high profile case or make a ton of money taking a percentage. They simply wanted to do the right thing. They never retreated, even when it was clear a U.S. federal judge decided it was his mission in life to punish Donziger and the "so-called plaintiffs."

Patton Boggs Lawyers

A group of incredibly talented Patton Boggs lawyers became involved in the case around 2010. Patton Boggs usually defended corporations, not poor villagers. The firm switched sides, though, welcoming an opportunity to help the Ecuadorians collect on their judgment. Once they realized the level of deception by Chevron, they were drawn deeply into the case and did not waiver in support of the Ecuadorians, even when Chevron sued them for fraud.

Facing huge financial problems that existed long before the Patton Boggs lawyers represented the Ecuadorians, their colleagues at the white-shoe law and lobbying firm used the Chevron litigation as their excuse to purge the firm of these dedicated lawyers. Patton Boggs turned its back on its poor and powerless Ecuadorian clients. Merging with another firm, its stellar reputation has been forever ruined for its utter lack of courage and ethics.

Graham Erion, Andrew Woods, Laura Garr

Young, super-smart lawyers who could have gone to work for any big, corporate law firm instead worked hand-in-hand with Donziger, Fajardo, Saenz and Prieto both in Ecuador and in the U.S. in the early days of the case, until Chevron threatened to ruin their careers if they continued and eventually got one of them fired from a firm.

Chevron attorney Ted Olson (of Gore v Bush fame) called all of these individuals above, my former colleagues, "very resourceful people" when asked by an appellate judge why the 22-year-old lawsuit hadn't ended.

He is right. They are resourceful, but they are more than that. They used their talents to right an obvious wrong.

Chevron and its 2000 lawyers and legal assistants working on the case have used theirs to hide Merla's story and, as a result, attempt to minimize her, along with so many others, as people.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Same Chevron Shareholder Circus? Look Closer!

Amazon Watch and the True Cost of Chevron network take on Chevron management.

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon


The circus of lies, denial and propaganda videos that has become the Chevron annual shareholder meeting took place at Chevron's San Ramon, California headquarters once again yesterday. Not surprisingly, Chevron's lies about its Ecuador fiasco were recycled from years past – many of which seem to be nearing their expiration date.

As in years past, Amazon Watch was proud to support Humberto Piaguaje, a Secoya leader and coordinator of the Union de Afectados por la Petrolera Texaco (Union of Affected Communities) to confront CEO Watson and the board...again. No one actually expected Watson to treat Humberto or anyone from our team with respect, and he took the opposite approach with an eerie ease. Only in front of an audience of his own board members and executives could Watson get away with so offensively claiming that Humberto himself was being "used," and reject his presentation of the toxic reality in his own community. That wouldn't not stop Humberto from speaking the truth to Watson and the rest of the Chevron executives!

"We know very well the political and economic power that Chevron has, just as we know the magnitude of environmental damage and death to human life caused by your company. You are the criminals – you came, you contaminated, you lost in the courts, and you ran from the law just like any other thief."

But these are all things regular readers of The Eye are no strangers to, continuing to roll out of Chevron's predictable annual playbook as if on cue. And while many things about these meetings do not change from year to year, some important differences live behind the circus show and between lines and lies. Not to be overlooked in 2015:

  • John Watson's handling of the Ecuador issue is losing support even from within the company. In fact, shareholders representing $62 billion dollars of Chevron market value supported the resolution related to the Ecuador case. This is almost $10 billion more than just two years prior.
  • Even though he failed to disclose to his shareholders, Watson's legal woes are likely to get worse. For one, Canada's supreme court will rule any day now as to whether the Ecuadorians can continue enforcement efforts in Canada.
  • The release of "The Chevron Tapes" exposed just how much Watson has been keeping shareholders in the dark. Ten years ago Chevron's own technicians found toxic waste in former Texaco-only well sites, the same sites Chevron's most recent PR videos claim have been fully remediated.
  • Forensic evidence has been released disproving Chevron's allegations that the Ecuador verdict was somehow fraudulent. Worse, it indicates Chevron falsified evidence before a U.S. federal court and coached a paid witness to commit perjury.
  • Chevron's own efforts to have an international tribunal violate the rights of Ecuadorian communities and interfere in the case have backfired when it ruled that Texaco's remediation agreement (proven a sham) did not absolve it from civil litigation.
  • A U.S. federal judge overseeing the appeal of Chevron's retaliatory RICO case recently and embarrassingly called their bluff. Chevron backed itself into a corner stating that it never believed it could get a fair trial in Ecuador - despite arguing for ten years that the case must be moved there. The judge then asked Chevron to submit to a new trial in New York (even wondering aloud if it was in his power to enforce that). I don't have the words to describe the looks on the faces of Chevron's throng of overpaid lawyers when that happened! The last thing Chevron wants is for evidence in Ecuador to be evaluated, so the answer was a hasty and embarrassed "...uh no, Your Honor, we wouldn't agree to that."
  • Despite millions spent on legal intimidation efforts against its critics, the list of organizations and individuals opposing Chevron's activities continues to grow. Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and over 50 other organizations have condemned Chevron's actions related to this case. Bishop Desmond Tutu joined other nobel laureates and public figures calling for Chevron to change its ways and respect the rights of local communities around the globe, and specifically in Ecuador.

A responsible CEO not committed to a strategy of vilification and lies would have at least reported something about these developments to his shareholders. Not so with Watson. His personal commitment to using Chevron's vast resources to crush free speech, buy political power, threaten and intimidate critics and resort to smear tactics has earned Chevron the well deserved label of "world's worst."

Sadly, the most important and disturbing difference between this AGM and years prior is that each day the waste Texaco deliberately dumped decades ago relentlessly leaches more carcinogens into the drinking water of thousands. As a result, more Ecuadorian people continue to contract illnesses and are dying from exposure to Chevron's poison.

When asked by Humberto and by Amazon Watch on multiple occasions to respond to Chevron's responsibility for the suffering of the people of Ecuador – or to the damning new video evidence – Watson merely replied, "nothing you say is true. Let's move on."

Watson's unwillingness to respond with decency and respect demonstrates not only that he has no adequate answers to give in front of the public, but that he sees those suffering in Ecuador as less than human. Whatever allegations Chevron makes about the trial, nothing can erase the fact that Chevron admitted to deliberately dumping toxic waste in the first place, which their own video showed again during the meeting. Watson shows no remorse. They have spun their lies so deep and completely that they now claim that there's absolutely no evidence against them at all in Ecuador. None. Of course you'd be hard pressed to find a single person who has been to Ecuador who truly believes that.

The True Cost of Chevron network maintains that Chevron's actions are contrary to a healthy planet, healthy communities and a just world. Chevron does not need to destroy communities to be a profitable company. It doesn't need to poison democracy in America nor attack the free speech of critics to increase revenue. It does not need to poison water supplies and endanger the lives of children by fracking or deliberately polluting the environment. Those are choices the company makes and John Watson is the heart and voice of such choices.

The people of Richmond faced Chevron's attempts to buy their elections and they defeated the oil giant. The people of Ecuador fought in several courts for decades against Chevron and they won. But just as Chevron will try to corrupt democracy in the next round of elections, it will also use every weapon it has to try to destroy the Ecuadorians and their allies' ability to attain the justice they deserve. When we show up at each shareholder meeting to share our latest advances yet are faced with the same, tired lies, we ensure that arc of the moral universe continues to bend towards justice.