Thursday, March 10, 2011

“Merit of Case Getting Lost” Says Bloomberg Business Week In Cover Story About The Epic Struggle for Justice in the Ecuadorian Rainforest

If you have not seen it yet, a Paul M. Barrett of Bloomberg Business Week has penned a cover story on Steven Donziger’s epic struggle of justice for Chevron’s environmental genocide in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The story is extensive with lots of twist and turns as Barrett makes a valiant effort to cover “both sides” of the story. Yet when you read through it there are some key grafs that will stand out pointing to the bottom line of this 18-year-old historic battle between Chevron and five indigenous groups.

First, there is this case – that blows apart any assertion that Donziger is in for the money. (Emphasis is ours throughout.):
“Leaving aside his clients' aims, this [the argument that Ecuadorians are going after Chevron “for money” – Ed.], seems like a misdiagnosis of Donziger's motivation. He has been paid a total of about $1 million since 2003, which works out to $125,000 annually for round-the-clock, 365-days-a-year labor. Even with the Feb. 14 judgment, the odds remain iffy that he will collect a fat paycheck by class-action standards. His diary indicates that what drives him has more to do with true devotion and an ornery refusal to quit than it does with the accumulation of lucre. "I think it is a miracle how much we have accomplished with so little," he wrote in May 2006. "But in the end of the day that means nothing if we don't win."

The assertion that Donziger or his clients in Ecuador “are in it for money” was mainstreamed by the recent decision by Judge Lewis Kaplan we earlier highlighted as a “slap in the face” to the Ecuadorians who have been suffering and dying as a result of Chevron’s environmental disaster. Interestingly enough Barrett points out in this piece that Judge Kaplan doesn’t have a grasp on the merits of this case:
“Judge Kaplan, a voluble jurist nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, ruled immediately from the bench. He granted the restraining order forbidding the plaintiffs from trying to collect any judgment they might win in Ecuador. It was highly unusual for a federal judge to block the effect of a foreign court's action before it occurred. (He has since turned his order into a preliminary injunction, which remains in effect.) Kaplan didn't rule on the merits of the environmental claims; in fact, he stressed that he didn't know much about the underlying equities. He didn't sound sympathetic, however: ‘Among the obvious facts here are that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs are in this for money. They may be in it for other things, but they are in it for money.’"As pointed out by the facts highlighted above Barret didn’t find that line of reasoning persuasive.

Barrett did get to the heart of this story at the very end, which is that various legal smokescreens advanced by Chevron (and its "hitmen" are clouding up the real story – the tragedy that ravaged Ecuador for decades. Barrett notes that the “merit” of this story is getting lost.”
“The cycle of legal hostilities shows no sign of ending. Watching from the sidelines, Professor Arthur Miller, an authority on complex litigation at New York University School of Law, says the drama reminds him of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the lawsuit that consumes everyone it touches in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. He has a point: As the mud flies, the degradation at the heart of the Chevron case grows increasingly obscure. Everyone agrees that the rain forest is despoiled and poor people who live in huts are sick. Not much has been done to help them. Certainly the litigation has yet to improve their lives in any material way. ‘The lawyers, meanwhile, are running around the periphery of this case,’ says Miller. ‘The merits are getting lost.’"
Read the full piece where you get a sense of, as Barrett writes, “how far a corporation can go in counterattacking a persistent plaintiffs' lawyer whose advocacy leads to a monster verdict, negative press coverage, scathing blog posts, and consumer protests.” The plaintiffs will remain relentless and stay focused on the merits. If there is any justice, the facts will eventually prevail at the end.