Wednesday, March 05, 2014


"Setting aside the legal reasoning and looking only at the findings of fact in the case, a great many reputations will need reconsidering. "

Almost three years ago I posted on a little piece of news from Ecuador involving Chevron and environmentalists.  It wasn't a very big piece, but it had a lot of power and was very important, I thought.  It didn't get much attention, and I saw almost nothing about it on the internet anywhere.
The story went like this:
Chevron Oil was doing work in the Ecuadorian forests when a team of scientists showed up on the site, looking at the environmental impact on the surrounding area. They alleged that Chevron was destroying the rain forest, sued, and won in an Ecuadorian court. The court issued a fine of $8.6 billion which would double if not paid immediately.
Chevron found out something, though. They knew they weren't contaminating anything, and they found this video evidence of a setup:

That video, if you don't watch, is from a documentary called Crude by Joe Berlinger.  Its one of the outtakes that he filmed as part of making the movie.  That movie is all about how evil gas companies are but this scene shows a US attorney talking to activists.
See, the activists (being followed by the documentary) did not find the contamination they claimed was there, but they were suing anyway.  The US Attorney advises the activists, saying "’s Ecuador and if they have 1000 people around the court house they win, the report is just smoke, mirrors, and bulls**t."  The activists wanted to "extrapolate" that the contamination existed anyway, and take that to court, with lots of protesters, and the US Attorney is saying "you win that way."
And they did win.  Ecuador found Chevron guilty of not contaminating anything with their drilling, and was fined almost 20 billion dollars.  Well Chevron filed a case against the federal government and the activists for conspiracy, under RICO statutes, and the case ground on and on in the courts, wit no news.  Until yesterday.
US Federal District Judge Louis Kaplan wrote in a court opinion:
This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood — coded emails among [lead plantiffs' attorney Steven] Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more.
Kevin D Williamson goes on to explain how much further the corruption and conspiracy went, in National Review Online's Corner:
The questionable conduct ranges from the spectacular to the banal: There were bribed judges, to be sure, but there were also articles in The Huffington Post and Politico authored by former Andrew Cuomo and DNC aide Karen Hinton, who, according to court documents, as a public-relations consultant had attempted to negotiate for herself a “success fee” of “at least 5 percent” of fees related to settlement of the case, along with a $10,000-a-month retainer and expenses.
Corrupt judges, abuse of power, lying for money, a huge multi-national conspiracy to commit fraud... this has blockbuster written all over it. Except the bad guys are anti-oil environmentalists, activist lawyers, and government officials.  In other words: don't expect to see an HBO movie about this any time soon.
The case isn't decided yet, and I suspect it will go quite a ways up the court ladder with the government and all those lawyers whose reputations and money are at stake now fighting every inch of the way.  But this is bad in a spectacularly awful way that is difficult to believe, it reads like a B movie script.
If, as the evidence I've seen strongly supports, the court rules for Chevron, heads should roll all over for this.  The Justice Department, legal teams, environmentalist groups; not just fines, but jail time, disbarment, and general shame.  But again, given the players, I'm highly skeptical anything serious will happen to anyone.
Expect an HBO film all about how the sleazy oil companies tricked courts and bribed people into smearing the good names of heroic environmentalists.

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