Friday, November 19, 2010

Abusive Conduct in Ecuador Case Earns Chevron Lawyers Sanction from Federal Court

UPDATE - Dec. 7th: A Federal Magistrate Judge has issued a ruling to clarify his previous order in response to a motion from lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and expert consultant Doug Beltman. While the judge in Colorado did order Andrea Neuman and the other Gibson Dunn lawyers for Chevron to refrain in the future from the kind of abusive questioning it had engaged in during a deposition of Mr. Beltman, he declined to grant sanctions against Neuman and her colleagues. For more details read this post.

A federal court has sanctioned Andrea Neuman, a top lawyer for Chevron's attack-dog outside law firm Gibson Dunn, for attempting to intimidate a witness in the Chevron-Ecuador case. A federal magistrate judge in Colorado sanctioned Neuman for abusive questioning of Doug Beltman, a respected expert on environmental chemistry, toxicology and ecology, who serves as a consultant for the indigenous and campesino plaintiffs demanding Chevron clean up its spreading contamination in Ecuador's impoverished Amazon rainforest region.

As I've written about before on this blog, Chevron has been on a legal rampage, filing motion after motion against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' expert witnesses and consultants residing in the U.S. Most notably, the oil giant outraged 1st Amendment supporters when it subpoenaed hundreds of hours of raw footage from filmmaker Joe Berlinger whose film CRUDE examined Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador.

The Chevron lawyers persuaded the courts to allow them to depose Doug Beltman, an ecologist and former director of ecological risk assessment with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beltman is now the Vice President of an esteemed environmental consulting firm in Colorado called Stratus Consulting. He sat for a deposition with Gibson Dunn's Andrea Neuman on October 6th in Denver, and immediately faced an abusive barrage of questions that amounted to "naked, blatant intimidation," according to the plaintiffs' motion for a sanction of the Chevron lawyers.

An excerpt:

"Counsel’s clear intent, right at the beginning of the deposition, was to intimidate the witness by raising the specter of criminal proceedings and government debarment of Stratus. The questioning had no legitimate purpose. It did not concern Mr. Beltman’s knowledge concerning facts relevant to the proceeding. It was blatant, naked intimidation that violated Local Rule 30.3(A)(5)."

The motion continues:

"At the October 6, 2010 deposition of Mr. Beltman, a third party to the Lago Agrio case, Chevron attempted to embarrass, humiliate, intimidate, harass, and threaten Mr. Beltman, questioning him about his knowledge of federal criminal statutes, about RICO, about the Hobbs Act, about other courts’ decisions in this case concerning crime fraud, about government debarment of contractors, and other topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with legitimate questioning in this case. These blatant intimidation tactics have no place in this case and fall below the standards of professional conduct required by the Local and Federal Rules. Stratus and Plaintiffs respectfully submit that Chevron should be sanctioned…"

In an Amazon Defense Coalition press release today, lead Ecuadorian attorney for the Amazonian communities Pablo Fajardo is quoted:

"This court in Colorado was willing to stand up to Gibson Dunn's bullying and abusive tactics. Chevron is using these tactics as part of its campaign to cover up its own fraud and wrongdoing in Ecuador."

Of course, this isn't the first time Andrea Neuman's conduct during a deposition in this case has been questionable. As I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, after a judge allowed Chevron to depose another plaintiff's expert named Bill Powers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs asked for the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Powers for a few minutes, a standard practice. But Neuman and her Gibson Dunn colleagues vigorously objected, becoming agitated and throwing out a slew of ridiculous excuses, saying the office was closing, the cameraman shooting video of the deposition had to pack up, and then claiming "we literally have to leave the building."

Finally, when none of these things came to pass, the plaintiffs cross-examined Mr. Powers who explained that the toxins released by Chevron into Ecuador's Amazon rainforest amounted to "30 times the quantity or the volume of crude that was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez disaster."

But Andrea Neuman's questionable conduct isn't confined to depositions. In fact, apparently, she isn't above flat-out lying to the media about the facts of the case.

When a federal judge ordered Chevron's self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' guy in Ecuador Diego Borja to sit for a deposition about his attempts to undermine the trial by making secret recordings of the presiding judge, Neuman lied to a reporter covering the development.

Neuman was quoted in the legal outlet San Francisco Daily Journal saying that "the [Ecuador trial] judge… was seen on these authenticated tapes soliciting a multimillion-dollar bribe."

But as The New York Times reported, “No bribes were shown in the tapes” and “It is not clear from the recordings and transcripts provided by Chevron whether any bribes were paid or whether Judge Núñez and Ms. Correa were aware of plans to try to bribe them.” Ms. Correa, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's sister was mentioned briefly and randomly in the recordings.

Of course, while it's nice that The New York Times points that out, the reporter seems to miss the critical point that any "plans to try to bribe them" were devised by former Chevron employee Diego Borja and his shadowy American sidekick, a convicted felon and drug trafficker named Wayne Hansen. Now Borja is hiding out in his home minutes away from Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon, CA., waiting to hear when he'll have to spill the beans about his illegal operations to corrupt the trial in Ecuador, and what role Chevron's executives and outside law firms played in their planning.

I've speculated on this blog about whether Borja's testimony could implicate Chevron bigwigs like General Counsel Hewitt Pate or lawyers like Tim Cullen from Jones Day, another of Chevron's outside law firms. Borja held meetings with Chevron lawyers at Jones Day's offices in San Francisco in the midst of his spy-video dirty tricks operation. If he implicates Chevron execs and top lawyers from the company's outside law firms, we may see investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Something like that would be a whole lot more serious than the kind of sanction Gibson Dunn's Andrea Neuman just received for her abusive questioning. But with Gibson Dunn's history of representing the worst of the worst of corporate offenders and bragging about "innovative rescues" of "clients in deep trouble," we should keep an eye on Ms. Neuman and her attack dog legal colleagues.

Read more about Chevron and their Gibson Dunn lawyers' scorched-earth legal, political, and PR strategy to evade accountability in Ecuador in this briefing paper published by Amazon Watch: UNDERSTANDING RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE LANDMARK CHEVRON-ECUADOR CASE

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Will Testimony of Chevron's Dirty Tricks Guy in Ecuador Implicate Company Bosses?

Diego Borja, self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative for Chevron in Ecuador, was scheduled to be in federal court in California yesterday. He didn't show but his high-priced criminal defense lawyers –– selected and paid for by Chevron –– did, including Cristina C. Arguedas, who represents such high-profile clients as disgraced former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds.

Sources suggest Borja's lawyers didn't make a very convincing argument about why their elusive client shouldn't have to testify under oath about his efforts to undermine the trial over Chevron's massive contamination in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. Now it's looking more and more likely that this guy will be testifying very soon.

Borja was caught on tape talking about his dirty tricks operation –– including tampering with evidence, offering bribes, and attempts at entrapping a judge –– on behalf of his "bosses" at Chevron. A friend-turned-whistleblower named Santiago Escobar made recordings of Borja talking about how the company "cooked evidence" in the trial. Escobar testified about Borja's admissions before Ecuador's Prosecutor General's office, which is conducting its own investigation.

Whistleblower Santiago Escobar speaking to media about his former friend Diego Borja, who fled Ecuador with the help of Chevron

When Borja is deposed, what will he tell us about Chevron's General Counsel Hewitt Pate and his involvement with schemes aimed at corrupting the Ecuadorian judiciary? How about former top lawyer Charles James, a lawyer for George W. Bush's Justice Department who was Chevron's GC at the time Borja was concocting a sting operation against the judge then overseeing the trial in Ecuador? What will Borja tell us about the Jones Day lawyers like Tim Cullen at whose San Francisco offices Borja had a meeting in the midst of his Nixon-style dirty tricks operation?

While I like to keep a focus on the heart of the matter –– that is, incontrovertible evidence that Chevron is guilty of oil pollution that continues to sicken and kill thousands of people in one of Ecuador's poorest regions –– it's hard not to wonder about the legal implications of Borja's potential testimony. If he implicates Chevron bigwigs and top lawyers from the company's outside law firms, we may see investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It could get very serious, very quickly.

In September, Judge Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said that Chevron had "implicated" Borja as a witness to its claims against the courts in Ecuador, and ordered Borja to sit for a deposition by attorneys for the Republic of Ecuador. Borja's attorneys filed a motion to "quash" the subpoena and avoid providing testimony, leading to the hearing yesterday.

Lawyers for the communities suing Chevron for clean-up in Ecuador surely have sights on deposing Borja under oath and learning more about his 'dirty tricks' designed to undermine the trial in Ecuador. However, this discovery motion granted to Ecuador is in relation to Chevron's attempts to force the country into a binding arbitration, where the oil giant would try to make the Republic –– and its citizens –– pick up the tab for the toxic mess left behind by the American company.

In his original order that Borja be deposed, the judge wrote that there's evidence "Mr. Borja was not an innocent third party… but rather was a long-time associate of Chevron whom Chevron would pay for any favorable testimony."

Among Diego 'Dirty Tricks' Borja's quotes from the recordings cited in the legal filings is this gem:

"... I have correspondence [with Chevron officials] that talks about things you can't even imagine, dude... they're things that can make the Amazons win this just like this [snapping fingers]... I mean, what I have is conclusive evidence, photos of how they managed things internally."

Last summer, Borja, a long-time Chevron employee in Ecuador who has been closely associated with the oil giant's legal defense in the environmental lawsuit, spearheaded an undercover sting operation against the judge then overseeing the trial. Borja and a shady American former drug trafficker and convicted felon named Wayne Hansen posed as businessmen interested in contracts for environmental remediation should the plaintiffs prevail in the legal battle demanding Chevron clean up its oil contamination.

They made secret spy-pen video recordings of the judge, and after Borja flew to San Francisco and met with Chevron lawyers, returned to Ecuador where they attempted to bribe a man who passed himself off as an official with Ecuador's ruling political party. Unfortunately for the con men, they were trying to bribe another con man. The "party official" turned out to be –– wait for it –– a used car salesman.

Unfortunately, it didn't stop Chevron from breathlessly declaring in press releases and statements blasted to mainstream media that it had discovered a "bribery scandal" implicating the judge in Ecuador.

But as the New York Times reported about the recordings Borja and Hansen made of the judge:

"No bribes were shown in the tapes..."

Since cooperating with Chevron in cynical efforts to corrupt the judicial process in Ecuador, Borja has been holed up in a $6000/month home just minutes away from the company's headquarters in San Ramon, CA.

You know the old adage about keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer? For Chevron's executives and outside lawyers, it's yet to be determined which one Diego Borja will turn out to be. Stay tuned.

Background on Diego Borja:

San Francisco Daily Journal, September 14, 2010:
With Discovery Bid, Ecuador Turns Tables On Chevron

Amazon Defense Coalition press release, September 14, 2010:
Lawsuit Targets Chevron "Dirty Tricks" Operative Over Ecuador Video Corruption Scandal

The whistleblower report on Diego Borja, including recordings of him spilling the beans to his childhood friend about his involvement in Chevron's systematic attempts to corrupt the trial:
Chevron's Dirty Tricks Operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja: Whistleblower Report

And for further background, read two Huffington Post articles I wrote:

First, I blew the lid off the whole supposed "corruption scandal" only days after Chevron announced it last fall:
Chevron's 'Dirty Tricks Operation' in the Amazon

Then I revealed the shockingly shady past of Diego Borja's convicted felon, drug-trafficker, partner-in-crime Wayne Hansen:
Chevron's Man in Ecuador: Felon, Drug-Trafficker, and Liar, Oh My!

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Video: Former Chevron/Texaco Oil Worker in Ecuador: "We Dumped Toxic Waste into the Rainforest"

In the Ecuadorian Amazon region ravaged by decades of Chevron's reckless oil operations, almost everyone has a story of oil's ill affect on his or her life. Indigenous leaders talk about the unraveling of their traditional cultures due to the onslaught of Big Oil in their ancestral lands. Campesinos speak of coming to the region hoping for oil industry jobs, only to find sickness and suffering caused by constant exposure to toxins. And in this interview, a former oilfield worker talks of the helplessness he felt at being ordered by his bosses at Texaco (now Chevron) to dump toxic waste directly into the rainforest environment, day after day.

Jhinsop Martinez Erraez was only a teenager when he began working at "Dureno Uno," the first oil well at Dureno, east along the Aguarico river from the oil boomtown of Lago Agrio in the traditional territory of the Cofan people.

In the interview he explains how the toxic byproducts of oil drilling were disposed, saying, "The wastewater was dumped into a ravine, a stream, without any treatment at all."

He goes on to explain:

And at that time these were mountainous lands, pure rainforest existed, rich in flora and fauna; and this destroyed everything. And since we were just simple workers we couldn’t say anything.

Over the course of its time as the sole operator of the oil concession in the northeastern rainforest region in Ecuador, on top of spilling millions gallons of crude and abandoning hundreds of waste pits filled with poisonous sludge, Chevron dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into rivers and streams depended upon by thousands of men, women, and children for drinking and bathing.

Besides the testimony of a man like Jhinsop, how do we know? How do we know that other workers at other wells drilled throughout the sprawling Ecuadorian oilfields were operating in the same deliberately reckless fashion? In fact we know this from the company's own audits, commissioned as it was preparing to depart Ecuador.

In the meantime, Chevron's lawyers and junk scientists continue to claim that this systematic daily poisoning of the region's waters over decades posed (and poses) no threat to the people living there.

I wonder what these Chevron big-wigs would say if the same water that runs in the streams through Chevron's former dumping grounds was running from their taps at home.

Hey, don't worry, CEO John Watson. It's perfectly safe. Really, don't worry about it, Board Members George Kirkland, Sam Nunn, Chuck Hagel, we tested it. Don't let it concern you, VP of Health, Environment and Safety Chuck Taylor, there's no scientific consensus that it's dangerous! Don't stress, General Counsel Hewitt Pate, there's no conclusive proof that it causes cancer! Silvia, seriously. Do not worry Silvia "Global Issues Manager" Garrigo, it's naturally occurring in the environment!

Really, don't worry guys, it's just (toxic, highly-saline, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-contaminated, benzene, arsenic, chromium, and other chemical-laced) water! Enjoy.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Friday, November 5, 2010

John Connor: Chevron's Well-Paid Liar in Ecuador

Along with our campaign allies at RAN & the tricksters at The Yes Men, we've been having some fun exposing Chevron's widely-panned new 'We Agree' ad campaign for the insulting greenwash it is.

But now, I want to turn back to some serious matters in the ongoing legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for massive devastation in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region.

The Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC) issued a press release a few weeks back that highlighted a legal judgment against Chevron in Mississippi this past Spring. A jury verdict says that Chevron must pay $19 million dollars to five plaintiffs who were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes from leaking underground gas tanks owned by the company. According to the Associated Press, the daughter of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit was born "severely mentally disabled, and the children of the other women suffer from respiratory conditions and learning disabilities."

What does this have to do with Ecuador and the mothers and children there who say Chevron is poisoning them?

Well, it was Chevron’s lead American expert in the Ecuador case John Connor who also testified in this recent Mississippi case. The U.S. jury rejected Connor's testimony, and a reading of the court transcript unveils some very damning information.

An excerpt from the ADC press release:

In the trial -- which took place in Jefferson County, Mississippi -- Connor conceded on cross-examination that over almost two decades of work for Chevron he has never once concluded that the impact of his client’s operations has harmed even a single person, according to the court documents. Connor testified that he knew of no circumstance where “there were any injuries of individuals that were the responsibility of Chevron or Texaco.”

Connor also tried to exonerate Chevron by testifying that any contamination must have been caused by leaks from three storage tanks owned by a smaller company in the area, not the larger tanks owned by Chevron. But when confronted on cross-examination by evidence that he had misidentified the site from a state database, Connor admitted that he had never taken any steps to definitively verify that the gas tanks actually existed on the smaller company’s property.
John Connor: "Chevron paid me well to tell you this oil poses no danger to anyone."

Connor's testimony in Mississippi is very similar to his under-oath spin in the Ecuador case, intended to shore up Chevron's ludicrous argument that Ecuador's state oil company Petroecuador is responsible for all of the oil contamination in the region. This, despite Chevron admitting that it dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into Amazon waterways depended upon by thousands of local people for drinking and bathing. This, despite the fact that Chevron (in the form of its subsidiary Texaco, of course) dug every one of the 900+ toxic waste pits that the company abandoned, many of which continue to leech poisons into the soil and ground water [see this video to understand exactly how that happens].

Under cross-examination in Mississippi, Connor also admits that Chevron has paid him "at least" $8 million over the years and estimates that $5 million of that has been for his work in Ecuador.

Ordering Chevron to pay $19 million in damages, a jury in Mississippi rejected his ludicrous and laughable testimony and concluded that this guy has no credibility. And I encourage you, dear reader, to read the transcript. Even on paper in a format as weird as a court transcript, he sounds evasive and slippery at best, and like he's simply lying through his teeth at other times.

Now, people who are following the monumental class action in Ecuador will know that Chevron has been in a legal frenzy over the last few months, filing legal actions against more than 20 people on the plaintiffs' side demanding 'discovery' ranging from turning over footage and files to sitting for depositions conducted by Chevron lawyers.

The plaintiffs, busy dealing with this legal onslaught by a company with nearly bottomless resources, have yet to be able to truly fight fire with fire and seek discovery from Chevron in the same way.

In September, a U.S. judge granted a request by the government of Ecuador to subpoena Chevron's self-avowed 'dirty tricks guy' Diego Borja. Borja, of course, was captured by a friend-turned-whistleblower talking about how the company "cooked evidence" in the trial in Ecuador, and suggesting that his "bosses" at the company were directing him.

Now, it's time for the plaintiffs to drop some subpoenas on some of these Chevron "bosses" so we can learn the truth about the dirty tricks and lies that Chevron has been employing to evade accountability for its devastation in Ecuador.

But the more I learn about Chevron's highly-paid and deceitful "expert" John Connor, I think he may be the perfect place to start.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign