Friday, May 31, 2013

Forget WallyWorld, at Chevron They Live in WatsonWorld

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon

There are many ways to describe the experience of participating in a Chevron Annual Shareholder Meeting. One is often left wondering if those inside are as completely divorced from reality as their words suggest, or if they are just putting on a show for a room full of cardboard cut outs of corporate yes-men. This past Wednesday was no exception. While hundreds protested outside the 2013 Chevron Annual Shareholder Meeting holding the largest "pink slip" you've even seen reading, "Watson: You're Fired!" Chevron CEO John Watson once again demonstrated that he is largely divorced from reality when it comes to the company's $19B liability in Ecuador and its other environmental problems, both local and global. Watson would hate to admit it, but once again the meeting was dominated by his critics and the largest ever shareholder support for Ecuador-related resolutions.

The Chevron Way: We Know Better

Time and again when faced with shareholder resolutions critical of Chevron or the compassionate voices of community members living with the harsh reality of exposure to the company's toxic operations, Watson claimed it was his critics who were "unfamiliar with the facts". Servio Curipoma, who has lived his entire life in the Ecuadorian Amazon surrounded by Chevron waste pits, who lost his parents to cancer caused by Chevron contamination, does not need Watson to tell him what it's "really like" in Ecuador. Yet Watson dismissed his testimony and offered Servio nothing but his "pity" for being "used by US trial lawyers."

Likewise, Dr. Henry Clark of Richmond, CA, whose 15,000 neighbors were sent to the hospital last August after Chevron's refinery blew up into a fire, or Laura Livoti, representing JINN and the Nigerians who suffer from never-ending flaring and a rig fire that burned for six weeks in 2012, do not need Watson to tell THEM their reality. They are living it. Watson told Ms. Livoti that she should consult with some of his executives, who have a greater understanding of what goes on in Nigeria. The grim reality is that due in great part to environmental conditions caused by Chevron's operations, the Nigerians in the area only have a 41-year life expectancy. With that dire statistic, it's conceivable that Chevron execs COULD be there on the ground for longer.

To the community of Richmond, long suffering from Chevron's toxic refinery and its poor safety record (now under criminal investigation, Watson's message was that his refinery actually has a better safety record than others in California. Funny, not a single other refinery in California BLEW UP last year!

Amazon Watch founder and Executive Director Atossa Soltani stood to remind Watson, the board and the other shareholders that she was there BEFORE Chevron bought Texaco with over 800 pages of evidence that Texaco was an enormous liability for what it had done in Ecuador. Watson's "bubble" appeared to weaken as he became visibly disturbed when Ms. Soltani reminded everyone that he himself was head of mergers and acquisitions at the time. What was then estimated to be a minor nuisance by lawyers and investment bankers anxious to close the merger deal for their exorbitant fees has since ballooned into a $19 billion judgment that rises every year with interest. Chevron is already spending an estimated $400 million per year just in legal fees, dwarfing the $40 million it claims it spent on its sham clean-up in Ecuador. Unwilling to even reply to Ms. Soltani, Watson turned on a completely unrelated video clip and then had her removed from the room by four security guards when she attempted to respond. The Watson World bubble remained intact, but only to Watson and the true believers (read: personally conflicted managers) he appears surrounded by on his executive team.

Facts vs Fiction: On WatsonWorld up is down

Real World: Texaco (now Chevron) builds and operates a system designed to pollute and then dumps 16 billion gallons of toxic foundation waters into the rainforest over decades causing a wave of cancers and other deadly illnesses.

In WatsonWorld: the local water shows ZERO signs of toxicity and is totally safe to drink, even though Chevron's own lawyers luxuriated with bottled water imported from Quito during the eight-year trial in the jungle. Furthermore, anyone who complains about it and pushes for a clean-up is a "global conspirator" out to extort billions from good global citizen Chevron.

Real World: Socially responsible investment firms collaborate with human rights and environmental organizations to challenge a company's false assertions and work with shareholders with billions of dollars of assets in Chevron to create reform from within.

In WatsonWorld: every single person involved should be forced to turn over every private communication they've ever made about Chevron because if they are critical they must therefore be part of a massive global conspiracy to defraud the company.

Real World: An offshore rig burns for six weeks off the coast of Nigeria, killing workers, destroying fishing, and sickening communities.

In WatsonWorld: That's called, "no damage to the community."

Real World: Chevron spills over 100,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Brazil, resulting in hundreds of millions in fines and billions of dollars of potential liability.

In WatsonWorld: There's no need for greater oversight of Chevron's offshore work because Chevron is "committed to safe operations."

Back to Earth

Outside, hundreds of protesters representing dozens of environmental and human rights organizations, and communities who live in the harsh REAL world of Chevron's operations, reminded Watson and Chevron that no amount of misdirection and factual distortion is going to make them go away. They continue to call for his firing and for true accountability and they pledge to stand up to Chevron until justice is achieved.

Perhaps sweetest of all is the fact that Watson will be forced to testify soon under oath about the Ecuador disaster in a case brought by Chevron itself that is rapidly threatening to bite the company on its own backside. Without his protective WatsonWorld bubble, he's likely to find that in the real world there are penalties for lying about Chevron's actions and misdeeds.

– Paul Paz y MiƱo

Monday, May 20, 2013

Servio Returns to Hand Watson a Pink Slip

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon

Two years ago Ecuadorian farmer Servio Curipoma left his rainforest home and traveled thousands of miles to bring his story to the United States. This month he returns to demand – on behalf of all the Amazonian communities that have been destroyed by Chevron – that John Watson pay a personal price for his region's suffering. Servio is calling on Watson to resign from his dirty post as CEO of Chevron.

You may remember how Servio had us all grasping our seats just two years ago with his deeply personal story of how Chevron devastated his lands and drinking water, causing a public health crisis that continues to this day. Servio lost both his parents (his mother's heartbreaking story is told here) and a sister to cancer, which doctors have attributed to drinking water contaminated by toxic crude waste. Since that time, Servio has become an active voice for his community over the past 16 years, demanding that Chevron take responsibility for the contamination that has so severely affected his family.

In 2011, we were honored to accompany Servio to the halls of power in Washington DC and New York to meet with decision makers in the government, media and environmental and human rights groups. He then took it right to Chevron's doorstep in San Ramon, California to confront John Watson and Chevron face to face. At that time Chevron had just lost the $19 billion legal battle for environmental and human rights crimes in Ecuador. Watson, who had been CEO for just over a year, was dismissive of Servio and his plea for help for the communities of Ecuador. Watson, an architect of the Texaco-Chevron merger, knew full well what had happened in the rainforest and did everything but take responsibility for the disaster, blaming Servio's suffering on Ecuadorian oil companies. Of course Watson knows that to be untrue since Texaco was the sole operator and has been found guilty of deliberately creating the environmental disaster.

Servio will return to Chevron headquarters for their Annual General Meeting on May 29th with a pink slip in hand for Watson and clear a demand of the Board of Directors. In the last two years, rather than face the reality and consequences of the judgment against them, John Watson has led Chevron on a "scorched earth" legal campaign against anyone and everyone who has ever spoken up about the company's atrocious crimes in Ecuador. He has labeled Servio and his community members as global conspirators and accused THEM of attempting to extort money from Chevron. Ludicrous and completely unacceptable! He has even attacked his own shareholders and tagged human rights and environmental organizations (including Amazon Watch) as co-conspirators. His company now faces a criminal investigation in California, billions of dollars in damages in Brazil, has its assets frozen in Argentina and Watson himself will be deposed in a matter of weeks related to the matter.

John Watson clearly represents the failed approach and reprehensible strategy of Chevron. Human rights and environmental organizations have now called for his resignation. Thousands of individuals citing these serious issues and others have added their voices to Servio's in a growing chorus that demands that John Watson must go! Please join them if you haven't already.

When will Chevron finally FESS UP and CLEAN UP its toxic mess in Ecuador and help the communities who still suffer to this very day?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan Allowing Chevron to Use Secret Witnesses Against Ecuadorians and Donziger

Decision Compared to "Spanish Inquisition" and "Star Chamber"

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

We already have reported how New York federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has been under furious criticism of late from prominent lawyers, including famed San Francisco-based attorney John Keker, for trying to mount a "show trial" in New York to help Chevron evade its $19 billion liability in Ecuador for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest.

Never one to mince words, Keker publicly accused Chevron of trying to drown Judge Kaplan's court in "chicken shit" discovery motions and said, "I've never seen a judge treat an oil company… like a widow or orphan. Everything they [Chevron] want, they get." Read the extraordinary article from the San Francisco legal newspaper, where Keker recounts what he calls Kaplan's "implacable hostility" toward his client Steven Donziger, a longtime lawyer for the rainforest communities in Ecuador and the main target of a vicious Chevron retaliation campaign.

Lately, there is evidence that Judge Kaplan is going even more off the rails in what appears to be an increasingly personal crusade to destroy the case of the Ecuadorians.

Judge Kaplan is now routinely entertaining Chevron motions to deny the Ecuadorians and Donziger the right to know the identities of witnesses the oil giant plans to use against them. See this motion Chevron filed today. Kaplan already has granted Chevron's request with respect to two "secret" witnesses; Chevron's latest motion seeks the same status for a third.

A well-known Texas law firm is now joining Keker in calling out Judge Kaplan for acts that indigenous leaders in Ecuador have characterized as xenophobic, arrogant, and racist. See this article for a summary of how Judge Kaplan has insulted the Ecuadorians from the bench.

Craig Smyser, of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka in Houston filed a powerful motion (available here) in response to Chevron's extraordinary request to hide its witnesses from the accused. (Smyser represents two Ecuadorians who are part of the class that won the judgment, Hugo Camacho and Javier Piaguaje.)

Smyser writes:

"Chevron files motions to conceal identities of accusers that would be right at home in the Spanish Inquisition or the Star Chamber, confident that the Court will grant the motions every time… The motion is offensive to basic principles of U.S. law … that permit an accused to confront his accuser. Only totalitarian and repressive regimes permit, especially in a civil context such as this, an accuser to hide his or her name from the accused."

Chevron is trying to claim the secret affiant might be subject to reprisals in Ecuador, but Smyser pointed out correctly that Chevron has presented not a shred of evidence to support its claim. In fact, nobody from Chevron involved in the 19-year case – including hundreds of people from Chevron's 2,000-person legal team and 60 law firms – has ever reported being harmed by anybody in Ecuador, a nation that enjoys warm diplomatic relations with the U.S. and is a mecca for U.S. tourists visiting Quito (a UNESCO world heritage site) and the Galapagos.

Most of Quito is far safer than parts of New York City, where Judge Kaplan lives. That's especially true when you work for Chevron and get to travel abroad with beefy security dudes at your side. Just last week Chevron officials, some from the U.S., held a large press event in Quito to discuss the company's view of the case. All apparently got out alive.

In fact, Chevron conducted a hotly-contested eight-year trial in its preferred forum of Ecuador – and continues to do battle on appeal there – without being able to cite a single incident of harm needed to justify such an extraordinary request. Dozens of Chevron lawyers and advisors, many from the U.S., participated in the trial.

The irony is telling. Those who really have been, and continue to be, under threat are the Ecuadorians and Donziger. They have been subject to death threats, espionage, and defamatory attacks by the oil giant and its "investigators" at Kroll and generally labor under a cloud of hostility created by Chevron's goon squad. Donziger himself was a victim of a Chevron espionage campaign in Manhattan.

Chevron's sudden use of "secret" witnesses is an old trick used by lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to create the optical illusion that the human rights abuser in this case (Chevron) is actually under "threat" from its victims, the indigenous communities who have seen their cultures decimated by the company's pollution. (See here for a summary of the evidence used to find Chevron liable, and here for a video about the case.)

The lawyers on Gibson Dunn's dream team, led by the ethically-challenged Randy Mastro and Andrea Neumann (both have been sanctioned for their work on behalf of Chevron – see here and here), pulled the same "secret witness" stunt in another case in Florida. That was before the firm quickly withdrew its motion for the court to hear secret testimony when it was clear the maneuver was going to backfire. (Read this rather shocking and extensive legal brief for details of how Gibson Dunn paid secret witnesses to present false testimony in court on behalf of the Dole company.)

Smyser's criticism of Judge Kaplan should not be taken lightly. He and two partners founded their boutique litigation firm as refugees from the prominent Houston corporate firms of Vinson & Elkins and Baker Botts. Smyser has been recognized repeatedly as one of the top litigators in Texas and has a roster of prominent clients.

Two weeks ago, Keker – a decorated former Marine who knows a thing or two about courage – asserted in a brief that Judge Kaplan has let the New York case "degenerate into a Dickensian farce" where "Chevron is using its limitless resources to crush defendants and win this case through might rather than merit."

Keker has moved to withdraw from the case because Donziger cannot pay his fees. Donziger recently filed a notice of appearance and is prepared to defend himself alone against Chevron's army (114 lawyers at Gibson Dunn work on the case), although he has very little trial experience.

Chevron is suing Donziger for roughly $60 billion; Donziger lives in a two-bedroom apartment with his family.

It is also obvious that Judge Kaplan does not want the truth about Chevron to come out in his courtroom. He already has ruled that Donziger cannot use as evidence the extensive scientific evidence of Chevron's contamination in Ecuador that the court there relied when finding the company liable. This essentially neuters Donziger's ability to defend himself from Chevron's preposterous claim that he was pursuing "sham litigation" in Ecuador.

Judge Kaplan also has signaled he will deny Donziger the right to pursue counterclaims against Chevron that provide a chilling picture of the company's crimes, fraud, espionage, and bribery in Ecuador. Donziger's counterclaims against Chevron are not what Judge Kaplan wants in his hoped-for script.

Chevron's public relations flaks have been pretty open about the company's strategy to evade justice by "demonizing" Donziger, as shown in a 2009 email from Chris Gidez, the company's longtime press representative from Hill & Knowlton. (We will have more on that soon.) Copied on the Gidez email are two employees of CRC public relations, the right-wing extremist entity in Northern Virginia responsible for the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry when he was running for President.

Donziger recently released this statement and this press release explaining why he believes he cannot get a fair trial in Judge Kaplan's courtroom.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals this week set May 28 as the date it will consider a petition by the Ecuadorians and Donziger that Judge Kaplan be taken off the case. The appellate court already unanimously reversed Judge Kaplan in 2012 when he tried to impose an illegal and unprecedented injunction purporting to block the Ecuadorians from enforcing their winning judgment in other countries – an injunction that brought scorn on the U.S. federal judiciary from academics and lawyers worldwide.

We will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Rare Occurrence, Chevron's CEO & Chair, John Watson, Will Be Deposed

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Stop the presses!

Even though he has characterized every aspect of Ecuador – its people, culture, government and courts – as corrupt, dysfunctional or a joke, U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan finally ruled in favor of a motion filed by a group of Ecuadorians and their U.S. legal adviser.

The Ecuadorians may depose the oil giant's CEO and Chair, John Watson.

It is rare that a CEO & Chairman of the Board is required to sit for a deposition, which will take place this month. Watson, though, has been intimately involved in the 20-year-old lawsuit, originally filed against Texaco in the U.S. but later re-filed in Ecuador against Chevron for massive oil contamination of the Amazon rainforest. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001. In 2011, an Ecuador court delivered a $19 billion judgment against Chevron.

As the architect of the plan to purchase Texaco, Watson knew about Texaco's admission that it had dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic production water into the Ecuador rainforest's waterways. He knew about the 900 unlined pits that Texaco built to store pure crude. He knew about the internal audits Texaco conducted that showed massive contamination. Yet, he pushed the merger and, as a result, inherited the largest environmental lawsuit in the world's history and urged a trial in Ecuador, only later to cry foul when he, his lawyers and his private investigative firm, Kroll, failed to undermine the Ecuadorian judicial system.

Having lost in Ecuador, Watson and his 2,000 lawyers and legal assistants turned to the U.S. and found in Lewis Kaplan a federal judge only happy to take their spurious charges seriously. See this Chevron Pit for more background on Kaplan's bias against the Ecuadorians.

Meanwhile, the Ecuadorians are focusing their resources and energy where it matters: in countries where Chevron has assets. They have filed lawsuits in Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Ecuador to seize assets as payment for the judgment Chevron refuses to acknowledge. Currently, $2 billion has been frozen in Argentina.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

NBC Nightly News Airs Segment on Indigenous Peoples' Fight in Ecuador

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

NBC Nightly News Ann Curry recently returned from Ecuador with this account of how impoverished indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest are preparing to fight – literally and metaphorically – their government's efforts to explore for oil on their native, pristine lands.

Meanwhile, some of these same groups are fighting in a U.S. courtroom 3,000 miles away 2,000 Chevron lawyers and a U.S. federal judge who believe a $19 billion judgment the Ecuadorians won in an Ecuador court is a fraud. Needless to say, The Chevron Pit strongly disagrees, while Chevron refuses to pay the judgment.

Curry's cameras document the beauty and the uniqueness of the Ecuadorian jungle in the Yasuni Park, reminding viewers that this was what another part of the rainforest once looked like before Texaco, now owned by Chevron, explored for oil five decades ago, using substandard drilling practices to maximize its profits. See this video to understand how Texaco, now Chevron, ruined the rainforest and destroyed a way of life for at least five indigenous groups.

Curry features an interesting proposal by Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who is asking developed countries driven by huge oil consumption to pay Ecuador NOT to explore for oil in the Yasuni Park, given that its thick and heavy vegetation helps keep the world's air supply cleaner by soaking up carbon dioxide.

By not developing the area, the rainforest is saved and the global environment improved but potential revenues from oil sales are not realized, depriving poor people of an education, safe housing and job opportunities. Correa believes Ecuador is, so to speak, scratching the developed world's back, but not getting any scratch in return.

On the other hand, Chevron would rather pay law firms like Gibson Dunn, Jones Day and King & Spalding hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the Ecuadorians in court, rather than spend even close to a similar amount on cleaning the soil and drinking water that Texaco contaminated. Chevron calculates that tactic is preferable than setting a precedent of actually helping people.

Though it's unlikely we've forgotten, the Nightly News segment reminds us that money – the ability to make it and not lose it – makes the world go around. Watch the segment:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2,000 Lawyers Failed to Block Chevron CEO John Watson from Court Deposition on Ecuador Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars for 2,000 lawyers and legal assistants to fight a group of impoverished Ecuadorian indigenous people in a historic oil contamination lawsuit, Chevron's CEO and Chairman of the Board John Watson will finally have to answer questions under oath about the environmental crimes committed by an oil company he recommended Chevron purchase.

This, of course, assumes that U.S. Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has sought to stop the Ecuadorians from enforcing their judgment, does not overrule a magistrate judge's decision issued yesterday, allowing the deposition to go forward.

As the architect of the plan to purchase Texaco in 2001, Watson knew about Texaco's admission that it had dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic production water into the Ecuador rainforest's waterways. He knew about the 900 unlined pits that Texaco built to store pure crude. He knew about the internal audits Texaco conducted that showed massive contamination. Yet, he pushed the merger and, as a result, inherited the largest environmental lawsuit in the world's history and urged a trial in Ecuador, only later to cry foul when he, his lawyers and his private investigative firm, Kroll, failed to undermine the Ecuadorian judicial system.

It is about time that Chevron's highest ranking officer speak to the injustices that Texaco committed and Chevron tried to hide in Ecuador's rainforest.

A statement issued by the Ecuadorians who won a $19 billion judgment against Chevron and are seeking to enforce that judgment in Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Ecuador is available here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

U.S. Judge Kaplan "Open to Fair Criticism" For Driving Up Ecuadorians' Court Costs, Legal Blogger Writes

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Lawyer blogger Ted Folkman of the law firm Murphy & King had three interesting observations in his latest blog about the motion by Steven Donziger's lawyer and the Ecuadorians' lawyers to withdraw from their defense in Chevron's U.S. effort to block enforcement of the $19 billion Ecuador judgment against the oil giant for massive oil contamination.

They withdrew because they believe U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan is conducting a "show trial" that has turned into a "Dickensian farce," and their clients can no longer afford them, given the rising cost of the litigation. For example, Kaplan recently appointed two of his friends as magistrate judges to oversee over 40 depositions in May. The judges' fees have to be split between the Ecuadorians/Donziger and Chevron. Total cost for the upcoming October trial could easily reach tens of millions of dollars.

Folkman wrote:

  1. Kaplan is "open to fair criticism" of his willingness to allow Chevron to drive up legal costs intentionally and, in effect, make it impossible for the impoverished people of Ecuador and their lawyer to afford to pay their lawyers and for their defense.
  2. Kaplan may not allow the lawyers to withdraw, further straining their resources and possibly requiring the Ecuadorians to "sell" even more equity in their judgment in order to raise money from litigation funders – money that should be used to pay for cleanup of the toxic mess Chevron left in Ecuador and for efforts to provide clean water and health care facilities NOT for lawyers. Note that the only reason the Ecuadorians ever brought in litigation funders was to defend themselves in Kaplan's court.
  3. Donziger could be, according to Folkman, "no worse off" without attorneys, given that it is obvious only to the most obtuse that Kaplan will rule against the Ecuadorians and Donziger. Perhaps, he muses, Donziger planned it that way. Folkman concludes: "Do I have any reason to believe that this is so? Not really. But it would be a fitting next twist in this most twisty of cases."

Full blog is here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dumb Chevron Lawyer Tapes Himself Offering a Bribe in Ecuador

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

Chevron apparently got caught with its hand in the cookie jar again in its long-running campaign to weasel out of its $19 billion legal obligation in Ecuador.

Only this time the company tripped all over itself, producing a tape in federal court made by company lawyer Andres Rivero that can only be described as staggering in its stupidity.

This might keep the fraud division of the U.S. Department of Justice at least a little busy for the next few weeks.

The tape shows that Rivero brought a suitcase full of cash to Quito to pay off an Ecuador judge in exchange for favorable testimony. See this explosive press release for more details.

We previously reported that in 2011 the oil giant offered a $1 billion bribe to Ecuador's government to illegally quash the lawsuit. The judgment was based on overwhelming scientific evidence that Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest.

We now know that Chevron tried to pay $20,000 to an American journalist to spy on the plaintiffs, has conducted espionage surveillance to intimidate New York lawyer Steven Donziger, has threatened Ecuador judges with jail time, has tried to extort testimony from scientific consultants in the U.S., and has paid more than $2 million to an Ecuadorian operative to try to entrap Ecuadorian judges in a bribery scandal.

Of course, that's on top of Chevron's admission that it dumped 16 billion gallons of benzene-laden “water of formation” into the rivers and streams of the Amazon and then lied about the resulting financial risk to its shareholders, which prompted calls for an SEC investigation, which prompted a shareholder revolt last year against CEO John Watson which almost cost him his job.

These guys never seem to learn. Rivero and a Chevron operative named Sam Anson were outed earlier this year by an Ecuadorian newspaper for trying to intimidate and buy off judges in Ecuador. This is happening as the oil company desperately tries to beat back asset seizure actions in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina related to its refusal to pay the Ecuador judgment.

Please delight in reading about the details of this latest Chevron bribery scandal courtesy of Rivero, a Miami-based former prosecutor who, no doubt, has been paid millions by Chevron to risk his career for the company.

Andres, please let us know as soon as possible whether you think this assignment was worth it.