Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chevron Executives Misused Millions of Shareholder Dollars To Bribe a Witness in Violation of U.S. Federal Law

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon.

Image credit: Amazon Watch

Whoever directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any person, or offers or promises such person to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent to influence the testimony under oath or affirmation of such first-mentioned person as a witness upon a trial, hearing, or other proceeding... or with intent to influence such person to absent himself therefrom; shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.
18 U.S. Code § 201 – Bribery of public officials and witnesses

It may seem like this is stating the obvious, but it's a crime to bribe a witness to a U.S. federal court. Funny thing, though; Chevron has done just that, to the tune of $2 million dollars. Yet no one inside Chevron has demanded an explanation for this – until now. In advance of the company's annual shareholder meeting tomorrow, shareholders and members of the public are demanding that Chevron's Board of Directors determine just who authorized the payments of bribes to disgraced former Ecuadorian judge Alberto Guerra in exchange for his testimony in Chevron's retaliatory lawsuit against the affected Ecuadorians communities and their lawyers.

To recap, Chevron was found liable in 2011, after decades of legal battles, for $9.5 billion for having deliberately polluted the Ecuadorian Amazon by dumping over 16 billion gallons of toxic waste and causing a massive health epidemic which has costs well over a thousand lives to date. Rather than accept responsibility and pay for a cleanup, Chevron countersued the Ecuadorians and their lawyers and fabricated an elaborate lie alleging it was the victim of an injustice and that the Ecuadorian verdict against it was ghost-written by a judge that the Ecuadorian communities had bribed. Chevron won that separate case in a shockingly-biased trial and did so based primarily on the sworn testimony of known-liar Alberto Guerra. (For any readers wanting an extended review of the facts, please read this excellent post from our friends at EarthRights International.)

As we have written about before, Guerra was already seen as an unreliable witness at the time of the countersuit and even the presiding judge, Lewis Kaplan, acknowledged that he was a liar and corrupt. He noted that Guerra "often has been dishonest," and that he had "multiple" times in his professional history "accepted bribes," "lied," and "broken the law." And Kaplan also noted that "Guerra's willingness to accept and solicit bribes" among "other considerations, put his credibility in serious doubt, particular in light of the benefits he has obtained from Chevron." Yet, Kaplan allowed his testimony to be admitted. Guerra's testimony was central to Chevron's allegations and the trial court's findings. It was the only evidence of a scheme to bribe the presiding Ecuadorian Judge to rule against Chevron.

As described in the recent Amicus Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court prepared by EarthRights International, Chevron paid Guerra on multiple occasions:

In July 2012, Chevron sent Andres Rivero, one of its U.S. lawyers, and a private investigator to Ecuador – with $18,000 in a suitcase – to meet with Guerra. The cash was supposedly to buy Guerra's computer; Chevron hoped to find a draft of the final judgment, which Guerra claimed he had written. Recordings of the meeting show Rivero, the investigator, and Guerra negotiating a payment:

INV #5: You, let's say, tell us how much, how much.

GUERRA: Well, how much are you willing?


RIVERO: I'm an attorney, so then... How... for me it's, uh... I don't mind setting, uh, a, a starting figure right? Starting. Understand? Or, [INV #5] what do you think?

INV #5: Yes, Yes. We have twenty thousand dollars in the...

RIVERO: In hand.

INV #5: In hand, right?

GUERRA: Couldn't you add a few zeroes?

In January 2013, Chevron and Guerra signed a contract detailing the benefits Chevron would provide to Guerra and his family in exchange for Guerra testifying. The benefits were guaranteed for two years, with an option of renewal... The benefits Chevron agreed to pay Guerra were "compensation" and were separate from and "in addition" to "travel and other expenses" associated with testifying.

All told, since July 2012, Chevron had given Guerra at a minimum:
  • $432,000 in monthly payments;
  • $12,000 for household items;
  • $48,000 in cash in exchange for evidence;
  • A new computer;
  • Payment of all U.S. taxes;
  • Expenses for Guerra and his family to move to the U.S.;
  • Health insurance for Guerra and his family;
  • A car and car insurance; and
  • Payment for an immigration attorney for Guerra and his family, an attorney to represent Guerra in the US proceedings, an Ecuadorian attorney, a tax attorney, and an accountant.

Money well spent for Chevron. Or was it?

You might think Chevron's ongoing payments to Guerra would ensure he kept up his lies for Chevron, but Guerra's corruption was too much to keep hidden. When he took the stand in a related arbitration proceeding in 2015, he admitted that he lied under oath in Kaplan's court! In fact, he confessed that he misled the court about the bribe and about having arranged to ghostwrite the judgment. He also admitted he did so specifically to get a larger payout from Chevron. This put Chevron in serious trouble as it became even more clear that the company paid him specifically to lie for it.

When pressed about the fact that Chevron bribed Guerra and didn't even get what it paid for, CEO John Watson might try to defend his actions by claiming that Chevron didn't know Guerra was going to lie. Yet, Chevron's lawyers coached him in preparation for the trial for 53 days! Of course, Chevron and its lawyers at the corporate hatchet firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher knew Guerra was going to lie. They had been negotiating a price for this lies for years as the ChevronPit blog has pointed out:

Chevron lawyers led by Randy Mastro then coached Guerra for 53 consecutive days before he took the stand in Kaplan's courtroom. "Money talks, but gold screams," Guerra told Chevron's lawyers when he negotiated his "fee" for testifying.

Now Chevron faces an enforcement action in Canada, where the Ecuadorians continue to pursue the company's assets to finally pay for a cleanup. There will be another hearing in that case this October and Chevron will have the opportunity to explain Guerra's contradictory testimony in another court. I have a feeling it will do almost anything to avoid that embarrassment, however. In the meantime, CEO Watson and senior legal counsel Hewitt Pate will have to explain to shareholders how bribing a federal witness to commit fraud in U.S. federal court is an appropriate use of millions of dollars of shareholder funds. For a company already known worldwide as a gross polluter and environmental criminal, Watson has achieved the seemingly impossible by making Chevron's reputation even worse.

Send your message to Chevron's Board of Directors today and demand they hold CEO Watson accountable for his illegal actions

P.S. To learn more about Chevron's retaliatory legal attacks on the Ecuadorians, we recommend you watch our Donny Rico video series by Pulitzer Prize-winning animator Mark Fiore.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chevron Creating Fake News To Hide Environmental Crimes in Ecuador's Amazon

Reposted from The Chevron Pit.

Chevron is again trying to spread fake news to try to distract attention from its environmental crimes and sham remediation in Ecuador, where the company is on the hook for a $9.5 billion liability and faces potential criminal prosecution for presenting fabricated evidence to a U.S. court.

Last week, we reported how dismissed Fortune reporter Roger Parloff resurfaced at Yahoo Finance with a completely unbalanced article on the case to help absolve Chevron of responsibility for the billions of gallons of toxic oil waste it admitted to dumping into the waterways and lands of indigenous people in Ecuador. (Here is a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron as found by three layers of courts in Ecuador, where the company insisted the trial be held.)

Now we see the right-wing blog Hot Air is also blowing major hot air of its own in service of the Chevron propaganda machine.

Hot Air, which is connected to the Koch Brothers funding network outlined brilliantly by Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money, claimed in a recent blog that Chevron is the subject of a "shakedown" by the villagers and their lawyers. The blog then quotes none other than Parloff's unbalanced article published by Yahoo Finance in support.

Both Parloff and Hot Air used the occasion to promote Chevron's opposition brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in an appeal of a bogus "racketeering" decision that the company obtained from controversial New York trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan. That judgment resulted from a one-sided proceeding termed a "Dickensian farce" by one of the nation's leading lawyers.

Kaplan, who repeatedly bent over backwards to help Chevron, failed to disclose that he held investments in the oil company during the trial.

Chevron's latest court brief in the U.S. has little relevance to the company's ongoing liability in the case given that the judgment is being enforced against company assets in Canada and Brazil.

Both Parloff in his Yahoo Finance article and Hot Air downplayed the Canada enforcement action, where the affected communities recently won a unanimous decision from the country's Supreme Court. Canada is where Chevron is likely to be held accountable for its toxic dumping in Ecuador after two decades of forum shopping in courts spanning three continents.

(For a comprehensive history of Chevron's subterfuge in the case, see this appellate brief submitted by Steven Donziger, the longtime lawyer for the Ecuadorians and a primary target of the company's attacks. Here is a blog from a  lawyer at Earth Rights International explaining Chevron's fabricated evidence and illegal witness payments. Here is an explosive new report and press release that outlines Chevron's attempts to manipulate U.S. courts with false evidence.)

Both Parloff and the blog also ignore critical new evidence that shows Chevron "won" its decision from Kaplan after it illegally bribed a witness with at least $2 million in cash and benefits. The admittedly corrupt Chevron witness, Alberto Guerra, later admitted under oath that he lied about several critical issues in Kaplan's court while a forensic examination proved the falsity of Chevron's fake news that the judgment against it in Ecuador was "ghostwritten".

The world knows that Chevron produces and refines lots of oil. But few know the extent of its investments to manipulate public opinion to hide its wrongdoing in Ecuador and elsewhere. Parloff and Hot Air are vehicles for this strategy.

In the Ecuador case, Chevron has a long history of orchestrating payments to bloggers and using small right-wing websites to try to launder its propaganda. A few years ago, a pro-Chevron blogger named Alex Thorne tried to pass himself off as a legitimate journalist when he sent intimidating emails to funders of the environmental group Amazon Watch, which supports the Ecuadorian villagers.

Thorne also ran a website designed to attack Karen Hinton, the highly effective U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorian villagers. It turned out that while Thorne was targeting the Ecuadorians as a "journalist" he actually was married to a Chevron employee and being paid by the company.

For years Chevron has used the notorious public relations operative Sam Singer, who hails from the Roger Stone school of political mischief, to funnel money to bloggers to parrot its fake talking points. See here for background on the Chevron dirty tricks operation.

When Chevron couldn't impose its will on the small California town of Richmond -- where a catastrophic fire at a Chevron refinery in 2012 forced 15,000 residents to seek medical attention -- the company started its own local on-line website and called it The Richmond Times to make it look like a legitimate news outlet.

The hot air coming from the Hot Air blog on Chevron's growing problems in Ecuador is just more of the same.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Journalist Roger Parloff Blows It Again Over Chevron's Ecuador Pollution Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit.

Journalist Roger Parloff, who recently left Fortune magazine, has resurfaced as a writer for Yahoo Finance. But one thing that hasn't changed is his dishonest and unbalanced reporting in favor of Chevron in the historic Ecuador pollution case where the company faces a huge liability for its toxic dumping in the rainforest.

Parloff recently published a story on the case Yahoo Finance that completely ignored critical new evidence that devastates Chevron's defenses, including that its star witness admitted that he repeatedly lied on the stand after being paid $2 million by the company. The villagers who won the $9.5 billion judgment are currently enforcing it against Chevron's assets in Canada and Brazil. But Parloff also refused to explain the huge significance of legal developments in those two countries -- developments whose importance dwarfs developments in the U.S. phase of the proceedings.

As background, courts in Ecuador where Chevron insisted the trial be held found the company guilty of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador's Amazon region, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak cancer confirmed by several independent studies. Company officials led by CEO John Watson refused to pay the judgment and threatened the villagers with a "lifetime of litigation" if they persisted in pursuing their claims.

(See this New York Times story for background and this summary of the overwhelming evidence against the company. Here is the Ecuador Supreme Court decision issued in 2013 affirming Chevron's liability.)

Parloff's article focused largely on a narrow appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by the villagers and their lawyer, Steven Donziger, over a retaliatory "racketeering" judgment obtained by Chevron in the United States from Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. That ruling, issued after the judge refused to seat a jury, was based on evidence fabricated by Chevron and presented via a company witness who claimed with no corroborating evidence that the Ecuador judgment was "ghostwritten" by the plaintiffs.

The sad spectacle of the Kaplan judgment -- where a U.S. trial judge tried to reverse a decision by a foreign country's judiciary -- is so bizarre and unprecedented that it has little relevance regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do. Neither Kaplan nor the justices have the power to block enforcement actions in Canada and Brazil where all of Chevron's evidentiary problems with its lying witness will be on full display.

Already, in a very bad sign for Chevron, Canada's Supreme Court rejected the company's attempt to use Kaplan's false "findings" to block an asset seizure action filed by the Ecuadorians targeting some of the company's oil fields, refineries, and other assets in that country.

Kaplan's judgment also was based on a "Dickensian farce" of a proceeding in the words of prominent attorney John Keker, who withdrew his representation of Donziger in protest. Kaplan allowed Chevron's "evidence" to be fully presented while he barred all evidence of Chevron's toxic dumping and fraud in Ecuador that was used to find the company liable. He also excluded Donziger's counterclaims that outline Chevron's environmental crimes, sham remediation, and attempts to harass and silence company critics.

The latest U.S. Supreme Court appeal that attracted Parloff's attention will present an important test for the justices. The court should of course toss the Kaplan decision because of the false evidence and a myriad of other legal problems, including the chilling implications of letting wealthy corporations use the RICO statute to try to silence human rights victims and their lawyers. (For summaries and links to the various briefs, see here, here, and here.)

In his article for Yahoo Finance, Parloff also ignored the fact that 19 international law scholars and 17 civil advocacy groups have urged the high court to reverse Kaplan's decision. Or that Earth Rights International, probably the leading environmental justice legal shop in the country, has condemned the Kaplan ruling as one based on illegal witness payments and other malfeasance.

Parloff instead used the platform of Yahoo Finance to reinforce Chevron's tired arguments designed to "demonize" Donziger who for years has led the battle against the company's fraud and corruption. (See this article in Rolling Stone.) Parloff also failed to mention that Chevron paid $2 million to the discredited witness who falsely claimed the judgment was written by the plaintiffs.

That Chevron witness, Alberto Guerra, admitted under oath in a separate proceeding that he lied about several critical issues before Kaplan. Separately, a new forensic analysis by one of the world's leading computer experts proved Guerra's "ghostwriting" story was false. Yet Chevron, Kaplan, and a federal appellate court continue to credit the Guerra testimony, casting a mighty large stain on the reputation of our federal judiciary.

This information about Chevron's use of Guerra as its paid stooge has been readily available in public legal filings for years. It also was documented meticulously in an explosive new 33-page report called How U.S. Courts Got It Wrong In Chevron's Amazon Pollution Case. The report, released last week, demonstrates how Chevron's false evidence and fraud have infected the U.S. legal proceedings.

Again, Parloff ignored all of it.

When at Fortune, Parloff consistently wrote articles parroting the points in Chevron's legal arguments while squelching letters of dissent pointing out deficiencies in his reporting. Already, there are signs he has tried to delete comments critical of his article on Yahoo Finance.

One of those comments was posted by Aaron Page, a lawyer for the villagers. He offered this incisive comment about Parloff's apparent attempt to launder Chevron talking points through a legitimate news outlet:
This reporter [Parloff] is the master of hyperventilation. He was a critical asset of Chevron as it fanned the flames of outrage and indignation in the early days of the RICO case. Most of the allegations from those days were quietly dropped from the case (like Chevron's "demand" for an impartial jury to hear the case was dropped). To fill the gaps, Chevron... procured false testimony of a "bribe" and "ghost-writing" from an obviously corrupt individual. 
Page continues:
In other words, the RICO judgment is UNQUESTIONABLY founded on false evidence. Yet Kaplan, the Second Circuit, and now Parloff couldn't care less. Their hit job on Donziger is complete.
For more background on the history of dishonest pro-Chevron journalism offered by Parloff and two other legal journalists who repeatedly fanned outrage against Donziger and the Ecuadorian villagers, see this excellent blog by Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch.

With this track record, the editors at Yahoo Finance might want to hire an extra fact checker to scrutinize Parloff's copy whenever he submits a story about the Ecuador environmental case.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Supreme Court Faces Major Test With Chevron's Facially Corrupt RICO Case

Reposted from The Chevron Pit.

An explosive new report that details how U.S. courts endorsed Chevron's fabricated evidence in its facially corrupt RICO case against Ecuadorian indigenous villagers presents a major test for the U.S. Supreme Court. (See this press release summarizing the report.)

The 33-page report -- called How U.S. Courts Got It Wrong In Chevron's Amazon Pollution Case -- is absolutely devastating for Chevron's bogus civil "racketeering" judgment against Ecuadorian villagers and their counsel, Steven Donziger. That judgment was issued in 2014 by U.S. trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan following a unanimous decision a year earlier by Ecuador's highest court that Chevron was liable for $9.5 billion in environmental damages.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the opportunity to reverse what a leading commentator calls the "facially corrupt" Chevron RICO case. See here for a Huffington Post analysis by Aaron Page, an experienced human rights attorney. Page helped write the new report which rebuts in great detail 12 false or distorted "findings" by Judge Kaplan that were rubber-stamped by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court tin New York that oversees Kaplan.

The background of the Amazon pollution case is illustrative of Chevron's abject bad faith in dealing with its pollution problem in Ecuador and the utter failure of U.S. courts to stop the company from abusing the civil justice system to evade paying for the harm it caused. Thousands of people in the affected region have either died or face an imminent risk of death as cancer rates have skyrocketed in the area where Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste.

After the Ecuadorian villagers originally filed their claims in the U.S., Chevron had insisted the trial take place in Ecuador and had accepted jurisdiction there. The company at the time filed 14 sworn affidavits before a U.S. judge praising the fairness of Ecuador's courts. Chevron clearly figured it could engineer a political dismissal of the case in Ecuador, which is exactly what the company tried to do but failed.

Then, as the trial in Ecuador proceeded and the evidence against Chevron mounted, the company started to trash the very court system that it previously had praised. Chevron officials threatened the villagers with a "lifetime of litigation" if they persisted in pursuing the case. "We will fight this until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice," warned Charles James, Chevron's General Counsel.

Chevron then vowed never to pay the judgment and launched a "demonization" campaign against Donziger and the villagers, of which the RICO case was a central component. To attack Donziger and his colleagues, Chevron even hired the same public relations firm that ran the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.

In what can only be described as a shocking example of American judicial imperialism, Kaplan let Chevron's army of private lawyers commandeer his courtroom to attack the Ecuadorians and their counsel to try to taint the Ecuador judgment so the company could evade paying the judgment. Despite its surface swagger, Chevron displayed real cowardice when it came time to actually put its RICO evidence to the test.

Company lawyers apparently had so little confidence in their "evidence" that they dropped all money damages on the eve of trial to avoid a jury of impartial fact finders. Also at Chevron's insistence, Kaplan prohibited all evidence related to Chevron's contamination and fraudulent cover-up in Ecuador from being mentioned in open court.

The entire Kaplan RICO proceeding was akin to a "Dickensian farce" as described by prominent lawyer John Keker, who withdrew from defending the case in protest of Kaplan's biased behavior. The Chevron RICO strategy against Donziger was in fact part and parcel of the company's own racketeering scheme to undermine the valid Ecuador judgment.

In fact, when Donziger brilliantly counterclaimed Chevron before Kaplan with overwhelming evidence of the company's crimes and fraud in Ecuador, the judge predictably refused to let those claims be litigated. Only Chevron's fabricated and distorted evidence was allowed to be heard; the real evidence from the villagers and Donziger was barred.

This was judicial farce, pure and simple -- what the villagers describe as a "mockery of justice" from beginning to end. To get a feel for Kaplan's inappropriate behavior and outright hostility toward the Ecuadorian villagers, read this fascinating account from Harvard Law School graduate Marissa Vahring who worked on the trial team defending the RICO case. Here's another account of Chevron's corruption from a lawyer who works at the environmental group Earth Rights International.

The latest report -- How U.S. Courts Got It Wrong -- destroys what little is left of Kaplan's and Chevron's credibility in the RICO matter.

The new report explains that Kaplan's "findings" were based primarily on discredited testimony from an admittedly corrupt witness paid $2 million by Chevron to falsely claim the plaintiffs offered a bribe to the Ecuador trial judge.The witness, Alberto Guerra, later admitted under oath that he lied on key issues before Kaplan and a forensic report scientifically debunked his testimony.

Guerra also admitted paying and accepting bribes when he practiced law in Ecuador. "Money talks, but gold screams," Guerra told Chevron lawyers when he was negotiating his rich compensation package in exchange for becoming a company stooge. Yet Kaplan "credited" Guerra's testimony and the Second Circuit -- as is typical of appellate courts in most cases but should not have happened in this extraordinary situation -- deferred to the trial judge on this point without any independent analysis.

It later turned out that during the RICO trial, despite multiple calls for his recusal for bias, Kaplan hid the fact he had investments in Chevron. On two occasions, the Second Circuit held hearings on motions to remove Kaplan from the trial without this critical information that the judge refused to disclose. The big picture is that corporate corruption permeated Kaplan's federal courtroom to such a degree that it was almost too much for the appellate court to acknowledge, much less address.

Page stated the RICO case now presents a major test for the integrity of our highest court. "The simple question is whether the Supreme Court stand with the rule of law, or will it stand with Chevron's attacks on the rule of law," he said. Already, 19 law scholars and 17 environmental and human rights groups have weighed in with briefs urging the Court to reverse Kaplan's RICO decision.

Even if the Supreme Court declines review of Judge Kaplan's legal fiasco -- which is possible given that the Court accepts only about 75 petitions for review each year out of the thousands submitted -- the historical record of Chevron's lies and fraud is clear as the villagers proceed with asset seizure actions against the company in Canada and elsewhere. Already, Canada's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the villagers while Brazil's courts have refused to block a separate enforcement action.

It will be interesting to watch Chevron lawyers react if they are forced to put Guerra on the stand in Canada without Judge Kaplan there to protect his credibility. Even Chevron's own lawyers might be forced by Canada's courts to explain their roles in coaching Guerra prior to his untruthful testimony in the RICO case.

Unlike Kaplan, who did all he could to rig the RICO trial in Chevron's favor, a trial judge in Toronto will assess the full evidence in an enforcement trial with neither fear nor favor. For Chevron, a neutral arbiter assessing its fabricated and distorted evidence is a recipe for a litigation disaster.

Will the Supreme Court Strike Down Chevron's Facially Corrupt RICO Case?

Reposted from the Huffington Post.

Okay folks, the briefs are in. (And online, except Chevron's opposition, which I've seen but which Chevron seems to be hiding from the internet.) Our side will still file a reply, but nonetheless it's go time on the petition to the Supreme Court to review the shameful U.S. lower court judgments in Chevron's unapologetically corrupt RICO attack on its Ecuadorian contamination victims and their lawyer, Steven Donziger.

The Donziger/Ecuadorian brief is here. Necessarily, its arguments are limited to the narrow legal grounds that justify the Supreme Court’s discretionary intervention at this point. (The Supreme Court receives around 8,000 petitions each year and agrees to hear on 60-80 of them, or less than 1%). Nonetheless, it sets out two strong reasons for review: (1) the disturbing implications of allowing a losing party in foreign litigation like Chevron to use the RICO statute to launch a collateral attack in its "chosen forum," i.e. its home-country courts, and (2) of allowing a party to sue in RICO solely for "injunctive" relief. This latter argument is significant because a party can demand injunctive relief without having to present its case to a jury. In this case, Chevron dropped all its money damages claims on the eve of trial so that only Judge Kaplan (the notoriously biased district court judge who stated on the record that Chevron was "a company of considerable importance to our economy" and that the Ecuador case was the product of the "imagination" of "American lawyers") would have the power to decide the case, not a jury.

Subsequently, a variety of scholars and civil society groups filed briefs outlining broader and yet more disturbing implications of allowing Chevron’s collateral attack to stand. For example, one group of leading organizations such as Friends of the Earth stated:

[We] regularly engage in First Amendment-protected activities similar to those that were found to be predicate acts under RICO in this case. [If the case is allowed to go forward, our] exercise of [our] First Amendment rights of free speech, association, and petitioning government will be severely chilled by the very real possibility that [we] will have to mount costly defenses to retaliatory litigation brought by deep-pocketed corporations whose conduct Amici publicly oppose.

Another group of organizations took a closer look at the deeply corrupt nature of the "evidence" that Chevron used to support its core claims in the case, such as the claim that there was a bribery agreement – a claim solely supported by the testimony of a "fact" witness, Alberto Guerra, to whom Chevron directed over $2 million in cash and benefits. (Paying fact witnesses for their testimony is illegal.) See more here, here, here, and here.

The Republic of Ecuador also filed a brief condemning the process of U.S. courts, in particular highlighting how U.S. courts repeatedly (but not surprisingly) misunderstood Ecuadorian law and procedure. In his 500-page opinion, the U.S. trial judge went on and on about how this or that was a "fraud" on the Ecuadorian court, under Ecuadorian law, that somehow required heroic efforts by a U.S. judge to step in and save the day. Please. Ecuador’s Supreme Court, the real expert in Ecuadorian law, considered the exact same allegations and summed up the reality of the situation:

[Chevron] never demonstrated fraud, which it has been claiming without any legal support. We reiterate that it has not proven any omission or violation of procedure that would give rise to the nullity sought. [Chevron’s] incessant harping in this regard departs from procedural good faith.

Just as important as all the briefs is the recent release of a damning new Report highlighting the corrupt foundations of Chevron's RICO case (e.g., its reliance on Guerra despite sign after sign of his corruption and falsity), and providing detailed responses to all the various secondary smears and allegations in the "demonization" campaign (Chevron's own words) that Chevron used to drive hysteria and momentum in order to get the case over the finish line.

The report paints an ugly picture of U.S. courts embracing, tacitly adopting, or even just tolerating extreme corruption and foul play by a U.S. company in its blatantly self-serving and out-of-bounds legal attack against an historic human rights case. Why would U.S. courts do this? There are surely some long and complicated answers to this question, but also some simple ones. Consider this quote by the district judge (Lewis A. Kaplan, effectively chosen by Chevron to hear the case), stated out loud from the bench in the opening days of the RICO case:

[W]e are dealing here with a company of considerable importance to our economy that employs thousands all over the world, that supplies a group of commodities, gasoline, heating oil, other fuels and lubricants on which every one of us depends every single day. I don’t think there is anybody in this courtroom who wants to pull his car into a gas station to fill up and finds that there isn’t any gas there because these folks [the Ecuadorians] have attached it in Singapore or wherever else [as part of enforcing their judgment].

It's just dumbfounding how biased this is – and just ridiculous. That the judge's desire to protect Chevron could be driven to such levels of ridiculousness speaks to the depth of the bias. Or consider this quote, also from the bench in a related proceeding before the RICO case even began:

The imagination of American lawyers is just without parallel in the world. It is our one absolutely overwhelming comparative advantage against the rest of the world, apart from medicine. You know, we used to do a lot of other things. Now we cure people and we kill them with interrogatories. It’s a sad pass. But that’s where we are. And Mr. Donziger [with the Ecuador judgment] is trying to become the next big thing in fixing the balance of payments deficit. I got it from the beginning.

Boy, you couldn't see where this case was going, could you?

Where it went was a place just as ugly as these quotes suggest – in fact, uglier, because as detailed in the amicus and in the new report, Chevron sunk to new depths by paying Guerra massive sums of money to invent a "bribery" claim, and Judge Kaplan bought it.

What we are left with is a patently disgraceful picture of a swaggering U.S. company which (1) engineered a dismissal of environmental claims to Ecuador, (2) didn't like the result it got in Ecuador, (3) came running back to its home country courts for protection; and (4) despite a mountain of international and domestic legal principles that should have prevented it, got the U.S. courts to jump to its aid. Specifically, it got a "freestanding determination of the facts" (Chevron's words) that is unconnected from any specific legal relief but that gives Chevron a new weapon to wave around in enforcement jurisdictions (as the Ecuadorians, as they should and must, go about enforcing their judgment in various countries around the world).

Ultimately, the RICO judgment should not stop any of these enforcement actions, because those non-U.S. courts are perfectly capable of coming to their own views on Chevron’s bogus "fraud" claims and are not going to roll over to corrupt/paid evidence the way U.S. courts did. But it will certainly give Chevron yet more delay, in a case which has already gone on for nearly 25 years while each year more and more victims die and new generations of children are poisoned

The Supreme Court has one last chance to stop Chevron’s self-serving legal circus from becoming law of the land and a stain on U.S. legal history. It has a chance to do something to help the underlying human tragedy.

The odds are overwhelmingly against review as a general matter, but we must still hope.

Friday, May 12, 2017

17 Environmental Groups Criticize Chevron Before Supreme Court for Faking Evidence

Reposted from The Chevron Pit.

Seventeen prominent environmental and human groups have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court to criticize Chevron and its legal team for fabricating evidence in the historic Ecuador pollution case and for violating the Free Speech rights of the company's critics.

The filing of the latest "friend of the court" briefs (see here and here) from the civil society groups is profoundly important. It is another example of how Chevron continues to lose support in the Ecuador case after being hit with a historic $9.5 billion environmental judgment in 2013 for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer. That judgment was affirmed unanimously by Ecuador's Supreme Court in the forum where Chevron had accepted jurisdiction.

The amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court underscore why Chevron officials and company lawyers might be subject to sanctions, or even criminal prosecution, for intentionally presenting fraudulent evidence and for illegally paying for favorable witness testimony.

The latest briefs urge the justices to reverse a decision from a retaliatory "racketeering" (or RICO) case filed by Chevron in New York before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan targeting the villagers and their lawyers. Chevron tried to use its false evidence in that case to undermine the Ecuador judgment and to silence the company's growing chorus of critics, including some of its own shareholders who have challenged company management over its mishandling of the case.

Called a mockery of justice by the villagers, the Chevron "racketeering" case had no real legal basis and was unprecedented in the 241-year history of the United States, according to another amicus brief submitted by 19 law scholars and this appeal by New York human rights attorney Steven Donziger.

Those briefs demonstrate that prior to Chevron's case before Kaplan, a U.S. court had never before permitted a party that had lost a judgment in a foreign court where it had accepted jurisdiction to come home to collaterally attack that judgment -- a recipe for judicial chaos and unending forum shopping as litigations jump across countries and continents with no final resolution, as the law scholars emphasized.

The law scholars told the justices that Kaplan's decision not only violates international law, but puts the entire U.S. government in violation of international law by letting a solitary America trial judge try to dictate to all foreign judges from all countries how they should rule on a case. Kaplan tried just that by purporting to block the villagers from collecting on their judgment anywhere in the world.

The Ecuador judgment was affirmed in 2013 after three layers of courts in Ecuador found that Chevron had dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and poisoning natural water sources relied on by tens of thousands of people. (For a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron, see here.) After betraying its promise to pay any adverse judgment in Ecuador, Chevron filed the "racketeering" case and saw Kaplan make what can only be described as a bizarre ruling from his Manhattan courtroom.

Kaplan ruled that as a general matter Ecuador's entire judiciary was "illegal" and therefore incapable of producing valid court judgments. He did this after refusing to consider any of the voluminous scientific evidence that was relied on by Ecuador's courts to find Chevron liable. The weakness of the decision is that it is utterly unenforceable in other countries. More to the point, it is a shocking example of American judicial imperialism.

Kaplan's decision predictably has been rejected in Canada, where courts have given the villagers the green light to try to seize Chevron's assets with the unanimous backing of the country's Supreme Court. Courts in Brazil are also allowing an enforcement action against Chevron's assets in that country to proceed. It is only a matter of time before Chevron is forced to pay up in full given that it has an estimated $15 billion of assets in Canada and another $3 billion in Brazil.

One of the new amicus briefs, filed by Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network, attacked Chevron for illegally paying an admittedly corrupt witness $2 million in cash and benefits to claim that the Ecuador judgment was "ghostwritten" by the plaintiffs. That witness, the former Ecuadorian judge Alberto Guerra, offered no corroborating evidence for his claim and later admitted under oath that he lied about key parts of the story in Kaplan's court.

The U.S. federal appellate court that oversees Kaplan, in reflexively affirming his ruling, ignored the undisputed evidence that Guerra lied and that his ghostwriting story has been completely debunked by new scientific evidence that became available after the end of the RICO trial.

Paul Paz y Mino, Associate Director of Amazon Watch, offered this powerful comment in a press release about the need for the Supreme Court to review the flawed U.S. court decisions:
It is imperative that the Supreme Court take action to stop what might be one of the most disturbing abuses of our civil justice system in history. To avoid compensating its victims in Ecuador, Chevron bribed a witness, fabricated evidence, and committed crimes and fraud before a U.S. court.
Erich Pica, from the U.S. environmental group Friends of the Earth, also criticized Chevron for using the RICO case as a pretext to intimidate company critics by issuing them subpoenas seeking privileged documents. Chevron served the subpoenas on dozens of environmental groups, bloggers, journalists, consultants and lawyers. All the recipients had tried to the help the Ecuadorian villagers or expose some aspect of Chevron's wrongdoing in Ecuador.

Pica said:
Corporate accountability advocates must not be at risk from legal action by U.S. corporations simply for expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech. As it stands, this [RICO] decision endangers the very foundation of human rights and environmental advocacy. That is why Friends of the Earth has filed this brief along with others in the environmental and human rights community.
Chevron suffered another blow when the 19 law scholars also filed an amicus brief in support of the Ecuadorian communities. Another prominent environmental group, Earth Rights International, published a riveting account of how Chevron tried to sabotage the Ecuador trial via corruption and improper pressure. Kaplan ignored evidence of Chevron's corruption in the Ecuador trial as well.

The Ecuador pollution matter clearly has become groundbreaking litigation in the global corporate accountability movement. It threatens the business model of the entire fossil fuel industry which relies to a shocking degree on externalizing its pollution costs to keep profits flowing at artificially high levels. As Chevron's profits gush, cancer rates in Ecuador's Amazon soar.

The Ecuador pollution case is also a major test for the U.S. judiciary. That judiciary thus far deserves an abject failing grade for lending its stamp of approval to Chevron's corruption and Kaplan's abuse of judicial power.

Compared to Ecuador's judiciary, which had the institutional fortitude to resist Chevron's attempts to corrupt the proceedings, U.S. courts thus far have bent over backwards to bless Chevron's bribery of a witness and other outrageous misconduct. It's a sad pass to say the least.

The Ecuador pollution litigation now presents a major test for the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices can choose either to step up and defend the rule of law, or allow the egregious injustice committed in the RICO matter to continue to stain our nation and its court system.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Chevron's Illegal Payments To Witnesses Should Prompt Supreme Court To Reconsider Case

Reposted from EarthRights International.

Members of the Cofán Dureno community in northern Ecuador have suffered numerous problems from oil production on their lands. Laura Mendo, 59, recalls a time when the Cofán wandered freely and lived off the land. Now the rivers are contaminated, crops don't grow, and new illnesses and cancer have been introduced. Photo credit: Amazon Watch

For nearly three decades, Ecuadorian communities have tried to hold Texaco (now Chevron) accountable for the company's legacy of oil pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The saga has stretched across the globe, across multiple court rooms and tribunals, and yet justice for the Ecuadorian victims remains elusive. This week, we told a side of this saga that hasn't really been heard. On behalf of our friends at Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network, we filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that details the illegal and unethical tactics Chevron and its lawyers used to try to obstruct judicial proceedings in Ecuador and obtain favorable testimony in the U.S. proceedings to support its retaliatory suit against the Ecuadorian victims and their lawyers.

I can't do justice to the complex and multifaceted history of the Chevron/Ecuador saga in a blog post, but here's a basic recap of how things got to where they are now: Ecuadorian villagers first filed suit against Texaco, whose operations in Ecuador were marked by egregious disrespect for local communities and their environment, in federal court in New York in 1993. After nearly 10 years of arguing over which court should hear the dispute, Texaco (which became a part of Chevron) convinced the court the case should be dismissed and heard in Ecuador instead, praising the fairness of the Ecuadorian judiciary. In 2003, the Ecuadorians refiled the case against Chevron in Ecuador. After years of litigation, the Ecuadorian court ruled in favor of the communities in 2011, issuing a multi-billion dollar judgment against Chevron for the devastation its operations left behind. Chevron appealed the decision and the appellate court, and Ecuador's highest court, both upheld the verdict ordering Chevron to pay to clean up the mess it left behind.

Sounds like that should be the end of the story, right? Hardly. Chevron, which no longer had assets in Ecuador, refused to pay. Instead, Chevron launched a retaliatory campaign against Ecuador, the Ecuadorians, their lawyers, and a wide range of other organizations and activists who had supported them. Chevron filed an international arbitration claim against the Government of Ecuador – before the Ecuadorian court had even issued its decision – alleging the judicial proceedings over its pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon violated the company's rights as an investor. (Under a treaty between the U.S. and Ecuador known as a "Bilateral Investment Treaty," foreign corporations investing in Ecuador can have investment disputes heard in front of a panel of private arbitrators.)

Chevron also returned to the U.S. and filed suit in federal court in New York, asking the court to prohibit the Ecuadorians from enforcing any judgment issued by Ecuador anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that Chevron chose to have this case heard in Ecuador, over the objections of the Ecuadorians and their lawyers, Chevron now claimed the Ecuadorian courts were corrupt and incapable of issuing an impartial judgment fit for recognition and enforcement in our courts. The suit claimed the Ecuadorian victims, their lawyers, activists, and even Chevron's own shareholders were all a part of a massive conspiracy and a "public pressure campaign" to try to force Chevron to settle fraudulent claims.

The suit also brought claims under the racketeering and organized crime statute – known as RICO – alleging the Ecuadorians lawyers had procured the Ecuadorian judgment by fraudulent means. It's worth noting what Chevron did not argue – it never tried to show the Ecuadorian court got it wrong and Chevron wasn't responsible for the massive contamination. The RICO proceedings were utterly bizarre, defying all assumptions about how our legal system is supposed to work. (I recommend reading Marissa's description of what it was like when she volunteered on the trial before coming to work for us.) But in 2014, following a very strange bench trial, the judge ruled for Chevron.

The Ecuadorians and their lawyers are now petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal. The brief we filed this week, which asks the Court to grant certiorari and hear their case, focuses on the facts that the trial court didn't consider: specifically, Chevron's misconduct in Ecuador and in the U.S. proceedings. In Ecuador, Chevron tampered with evidence of pollution, lied to the Ecuadorian court, paid millions of dollars to avoid damaging testimony, and sought to entrap a judge in a fabricated bribery scandal, creating the appearance of corruption in order to prevent enforcement in case it lost the case in Ecuador. Chevron continued to use dirty tactics in the U.S. proceedings, which ultimately led the trial court to make critical factual errors – errors we now know were simply wrong.

Central to Chevron's case below was its claim that the Ecuadorians' legal team had offered (but never paid) a bribe to the Ecuadorian judge to let them "ghostwrite" the judgment. Despite virtually limitless discovery, including access to the Ecuadorians' lawyers' litigation files, documents, hard drives, and even a personal diary, Chevron's lawyers never produced any direct evidence – no draft judgment, nor any communications by Petitioners evidencing a ghostwriting or bribery scheme.

Instead, all it could produce was the testimony of Alberto Guerra, an admittedly corrupt former judge who had previously tried to solicit a bribe from Chevron, and who came with a multi-million-dollar price tag. The trial court's decision relied heavily on Guerra's testimony and it is the only evidence for numerous conclusions. But Guerra subsequently admitted to lying on the stand during the trial about central facts of his bribery and ghostwriting allegations, and much of the "corroborating evidence" that supposedly supported Guerra's bought-and-paid for testimony has been refuted in later proceedings.

Chevron's conduct below shows why courts normally don't hear cases that seek, as Chevron did here, to have a court preemptively bar enforcement of a foreign judgment, before the winners have even tried to enforce it. Litigation would never end because the loser could always challenge a ruling in another forum. Indeed, if that's now allowed, then Chevron's misdeeds here – for example, payment of illegal gratuities and bribes to witnesses in exchange for favorable testimony, which violate U.S. law – could easily give the Ecuadorians and their lawyers a basis to turn to the courts in yet another country to file suit attacking the U.S. trial court's judgment as procured by fraud and unenforceable.

We don't know whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case. But this saga is far from over regardless of whether the Court hears it – the Ecuadorians are still pursuing enforcement proceedings in Canada, and the arbitration panel hearing Chevron's case against Ecuador has yet to rule. We can't help but wonder whether Chevron and its attorneys at Gibson Dunn may one day soon find themselves in the position of having to answer for their wrongdoing in these proceedings.